- Associated Press - Friday, August 21, 2015

SOMERSET, Ky. (AP) - Rand Paul and Matt Bevin were both little known businessmen with big political ambitions who decided to take on U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

The only difference is Paul won.

Their campaigns converged Friday in a joint appearance in south-central Kentucky.

Now Paul, five years removed from defeating McConnell’s candidate in the Republican primary en route to his U.S. Senate seat, is running for president. And Bevin, one year after losing badly to McConnell in the Senate primary, is Kentucky’s Republican nominee for governor.

Both men toured south central Kentucky on Friday, but for different reasons. Bevin is trying to unify Republican voters following his brutal primary history while Paul is trying to sway state party leaders to let him run for president and re-election to his Senate seat at the same time. Their campaigns converged in Somerset on Friday night with a joint rally at Bevin’s campaign office that featured a crowd of enthusiastic and, in some cases, suspicious supporters.

“It’s empty,” 52-year-old Erick Murrer said of Paul’s support of Bevin, noting that Paul supported McConnell instead of Bevin in the 2014 Senate primary. “You need to stand for what you believe and stay with it. And I just didn’t see (Paul) doing that. It’s kind of hypocritical what he did, going for Mitch and then coming here.”

Bevin never endorsed McConnell after losing to him in the primary, ensuring the loyalty of lots of tea party type voters that powered him to victory in a crowded Republican primary for governor. Bevin declined to endorse Paul for president on Friday, telling reporters that “I’ve never endorsed a candidate for anything in my life.” But he welcomed Paul’s support, hoping to pull along other rank-and -file Republicans that might be wary of his candidacy.

Bevin can count Mary Durbin Stapleton among his supporters now. Stapleton is a member of the state Republican Party’s central committee that is scheduled to vote on Saturday whether to approve a presidential caucus on March 5. The caucus would allow Paul to run for president and re-election to his U.S. Senate seat at the same time without breaking a Kentucky state law banning candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in the same election.

Stapleton said she plans to vote for the caucus and is scheduled to speak on Paul’s behalf once the meeting starts. She said she had no qualms with Paul supporting Bevin for governor after not endorsing him for Senate.

“Hey, I didn’t either,” she said. “I didn’t support Rand Paul when he ran for the Senate the first time, either. … I’m a Republican. There’s not enough of us to go to the other side.”

Paul referenced his first long-shot campaign when speaking Friday in front of about 65 supporters beneath the blazing afternoon sun, saying he recognized many in the audience from when he was “driving around as a physician from Bowling Green that nobody thought had much of a chance.”

“But the thing is that people are hungry for something different from government,” Paul said. “It’s time we get not only a republican but a conservative republican who has a vision for Kentucky.”

Bevin and Paul appeared at each with each other at several events throughout the day. At one point during an event in front of a group of citizens and local elected officials in Corbin, Paul turned to Bevin and asked if Kentucky could do away with its individual income tax like nearby Tennessee has done.

Bevin agreed with the sentiment, but added a note of caution: “It’s impossible just to switch it like that,” he said.

“We have financial realities, given as broke as we are,” he said, referencing the state’s struggle to keep its public pension systems solvent. “I do absolutely want to start trending in that direction.”

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