WASHINGTON - Aides to Sen. Rand Paul said the Kentucky Republican's participation in Sen. Lamar Alexander's campaign ad should not be construed as an endorsement for a third term in the Senate.
Paul, a tea party favorite who praises Alexander in the Volunteer State Republican's statewide ads, said through a spokesman his remarks should be viewed in a very narrow context.
"The footage that Sen. Alexander's campaign is using is from a public press conference in regards to a bill they both cosponsored," spokesman Sergio Gor said. "At this time Senator Paul has not made an endorsement in this race."
Viewed in a broader light, Paul's actions belie his statement in the ad that "Nobody wants to say no to Lamar Alexander.
In fact, Paul opposed Alexander on three recent, high-profile votes: the "fiscal cliff" measure, an Internet sales tax bill and immigration reform.
Alexander voted for all three, angering some tea party activists.
Gor and Paul chief of staff Doug Stafford said the former Bowling Green ophthalmologist has not decided whether he'll endorse Alexander or anyone in Tennessee's 2014 Senate race.
To date, Alexander has not drawn a GOP primary challenger. But conservative opposition groups, including one called "Beat Lamar," have sprung up across Tennessee. Lately, they've cited Alexander's immigration vote as a reason to bring him home from Washington.
Initial reports about the ad, which deals with a bill fighting fishing restrictions, highlighted Paul's presence and its effect on Alexander's political future. An article in The Hill newspaper cites an unnamed Alexander campaign aide saying, "Paul's inclusion in the video is designed to boost Alexander's credibility among the grassroots Tea Party activists."
But in a Friday phone interview, Alexander himself cautioned against "making more or less of the ad than there is."
"I know how to run an endorsement ad, and this was not an endorsement ad," Alexander said. "I've run into several people who saw the ad, liked it and understood it was about fishing."
But on television and on the radio, Paul's eight-word flattery comes without the preceding context of joint work on a niche issue before the Senate.
On April 13, Alexander accompanied Paul to speak at a press event at Barkley Dam in Lyon County, Ky. Two Kentuckians joined them: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rep. Ed Whitfield, whose Western Kentucky district includes Lyon County.
They chose the destination carefully, united in opposition to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulation that banned fishing below 10 Cumberland River dams in Kentucky and Tennessee. Alexander said the regulation symbolized government overreach in general; Paul, the libertarian, agreed and wanted the ban rescinded.
The Senate already had passed a nonbinding resolution -- dubbed the Freedom to Fish Act -- that expressed a willingness to overturn the ban.
Paul introduced Alexander at the podium.
"I will tell you from getting to know Senator Alexander over the last year or two: One thing that he is an expert at and very good is [sic] he will get something done on this," Paul said of the Freedom to Fish Act. "He already has passed it one time. It doesn't have the force of law yet, but we got it passed largely because he goes around and he talks to everybody, and nobody wants to say no to Lamar Alexander. And so it is my pleasure to introduce the guy who I think will help get this done for us, Senator Lamar Alexander."
President Barack Obama signed the Freedom to Fish Act into law on June 3, lifting the ban for two years.
PAUL SAYS 'NO'
Alexander and Paul share common ground on other policy matters, such as promoting school choice and preserving the right to filibuster in the Senate. They also found themselves on the same side of seven gun-related votes in April after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.
But they disagree on other key issues.
Paul was one of eight senators to vote against the January "fiscal cliff" bill that delayed spending cuts and prevented a tax increase for all but the wealthiest Americans. Alexander supported the measure, saying it saved "99 percent of all Americans from tax increases."
A few months later, Alexander served as lead co-sponsor of a bill to allow states to collect sales tax on Internet purchases the same as they do on brick-and-mortar stores. The bill passed the Senate.
Paul blasted the bill in a recent Washington Times editorial.
"This mandate is nothing more than a huge tax increase on the American people backed by lobbyists and some state governments," Paul wrote. "I must admit, I am disappointed that some in my party are backing this ill-advised bill."
Alexander also voted for the Senate's comprehensive immigration overhaul, saying the bill "ends de facto amnesty and creates a system of legal immigration."
Paul was one of the leading voices against the legislation, telling Politico this week it's "a crummy bill."
"Really a lot of conservatives who are for immigration reform, like myself, just want Congress to be in charge of deciding whether the border is secure," Paul said.
Despite those differences, Alexander said he and Paul "have a good working relationship."
"Sometimes we don't agree," Alexander said, "but I respect his point of view and he respects mine."
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at email@example.com or 423-280-2025.