U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who has thrown his support behind Sen. Mitch McConnell for re-election, said Tuesday that Kentucky needs to keep him in office to protect the coal industry and advance the state's other interests.
"My No. 1 interest is helping Kentucky," Paul said. "Kentucky needs defenders. I'm one, but McConnell is one also."
The Senate minority leader easily defeated tea party-supported challenger Matt Bevin in the primary earlier this month, and Paul's endorsement could go a long way toward smoothing over lingering tensions in the GOP.
"I'll do anything I can to help McConnell win," he said in a meeting with the Paducah Sun editorial board.
The relationship between Paul and McConnell has been rocky at times, to say the least. In 2010, McConnell supported Paul's Republican opponent, Trey Grayson, in the primary. When Paul easily defeated Grayson for the party's nomination, thanks in large part to his tea party supporters, McConnell came on board, helping bring the party together.
In a similar way, Paul wants to be a uniting force this fall. He hopes to help McConnell retain his seat in the Senate and also help his party gain a Senate majority.
He and McConnell haven't always agreed, Paul noted, but if you look at their most recent voting records, the two voted alike 87 percent of the time.
"I like to think he was right 87 percent of the time, and I'm sure he thinks the same about me," Paul joked.
Paul said he and McConnell are jointly proposing "economic free zones" that would help impoverished areas of Kentucky. The proposal includes tax cuts and fewer regulations for existing businesses inside the zones.
It's just a different way to think about stimulus, Paul explained, in that it helps businesses already succeeding rather than providing a handout to someone who has never owned a business.
"I'm for stimulus, but I'm for free market stimulus where you get back your own money," he said. "The plan would return more than $1 billion in eastern Kentucky over 10 years."
The plan doesn't stand a chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Paul said, which is all the more reason to do what he can to help elect more Republicans.
"I think the current administration has the wrong philosophy about how to move forward. No one in Washington has a clue about how to start a business and create jobs," he said.
Regulations upon regulations, he continued, are stifling the Kentucky coal industry and job creation throughout the state.
"McConnell and I have a dozen bills to help the coal industry in Kentucky that won't see the light of day."
Despite an attempt by McConnell's Democratic opponent, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, to woo Republican voters, Paul contends she'll have a hard time promoting the idea that she is both pro-coal and an ally of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"If Grimes wins, she'll vote for Harry Reid, and he would never allow bills concerning fewer coal regulations to come to the Senate floor."
As for his own political ambitions and a possible presidential run in 2016, Paul isn't close to making an announcement.
"I'm not positive yet, but we haven't been shy about saying we're interested," he said.
Paul said he expect to make a decision sometime after the 2014 election and likely closer to spring 2015.
Contact Carrie Dillard, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8657.