Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, widely viewed as one of the ultimate "establishment" Republicans, has said that fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul “can count on me” if he runs for president in 2016.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) holds his ballot after voting in the midterm elections at Bellarmine University, Nov. 4, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican and Tea Party favorite, supported McConnell against a Tea Party primary challenger and aggressively campaigned for him in what initially looked like a close race against a Democratic candidate in the fall.
With Tuesday’s Republican wave leading to a Senate majority, McConnell is expected to ascend to majority leader, and with it, a highly placed backer of Paul's.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader, McConnell said there wouldn't be a conflict for him as party leader in supporting one member of the caucus for president.
"[It's] not tricky at all," McConnell told the newspaper. "Obviously, I'm a big supporter of Rand Paul. We've developed a very tight relationship, and I'm for him."
Other Republican senators such as Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio are also viewed as likely 2016 contenders, and Cruz will compete with Paul for the Tea Party vote.
Cruz has declined to pledge to endorse McConnell for majority leader, while Paul has said he would support him.
"Whatever he decides to do," McConnell said of Paul. "I don't think he's made a final decision on that. But he'll be able to count on me."
Paul, who is up for re-election to the Senate in 2016, faces a potential legal hurdle in running for president: Kentucky law prohibits a candidate from being on the ballot for two different offices. The Republican-controlled state Senate is seeking to change the law, but the Democratically-controlled House is resisting.
McConnell told the Herald-Leader that Paul’s situation "is complicated," and expects him to face the same attacks that come with a senator running for president, though said any advice he has given Paul will stay between the two of them.