That stodgy tilt is one of many things Rand Paul has inherited from his father. Among the others: his diminutive stature, his path into a medical career, his weakness for conspiracy theories ("It's a real thing," he said in 2008 about a very not-real plan for a "North American Union" that would join the U.S., Mexico, and Canada with a common currency called the Amero), his questionable taste in footwear, the new campaign manager he brought in after his post-primary debacle (Jesse Benton, an aide to Ron Paul during his 2008 presidential campaign; also the elder Paul's grandson-in-law), his fund-raising prowess, his fervent base of supporters, and a truckload of philosophical points. "Ideas are the only things that count," Ron Paul recently told a British reporter, "and politicians are, for the most part, pretty much irrelevant."

The elder Paul's ideas—which have run the gamut from withdrawal from the U.N. and eliminating the federal income tax to ending the War on Drugs and impeaching former president George W. Bush for invading Iraq unconstitutionally—have earned him an odd, lonesome (and, some would argue, irrelevant) spot in the Capitol; nicknamed Dr. No, he often finds himself on the losing end of 434-to-1 votes in congress.

Rand Paul has kept his father on the sidelines during his campaign, for tactical reasons, with the exception of a January rally in Louisville. "I mean, he draws an enormous crowd," the younger Paul says of his father. "But early on I felt like I needed to be my own person and run on my own. I didn't want to be seen as somebody's kid, with my dad at all the events." And while his campaign has endeavored to paint Rand as far less rigid and outré than his father, their views are similar enough that the label "Paulism" fits both generations.

"Will there be 99-to-1 votes in the Senate if Rand wins?" asks Blumel. "I hope so. But Ron runs to further his revolution, whether he wins or not. Rand is definitely more pragmatic. He can take some of these more libertarian ideas and make them palatable for general politics." Block also foresees 99-to-1 votes: "He'll be able to embarrass people and call them hypocrites." Rand Paul in the U.S. Senate might resemble—metaphorically, anyway—the Rand Paul who, as a former competitive swimmer, exercises in the Endless Pool he installed in his house: swimming hard against the machine-made current but never getting anywhere. Then again, once he's one of only 100, that view could be, as George W. Bush would say, a serious misunderestimation.


Harlan County, Kentucky, it turns out, is famous not for the Duke boys, or for the Hatfields and McCoys, as Rand Paul speculated, but for its violent coal battles. Nicknamed Bloody Harlan, and the subject of countless folk ballads (including "Which Side Are You On?") and several books and movies (the Oscar-winning 1976 documentary Harlan County USA and the 2000 film Harlan County War, starring Holly Hunter), the county was the site of some of the most explosive labor battles of the early 20th century. The bloodiest clashes occurred in 1931, when miners, working 12-to-16-hour days without any safety or wage regulations, tried to unionize. Beatings, shootings, bombings, and tear-gas attacks followed, much of the violence perpetrated by the local sheriff's department, which was controlled by the coal companies. Eventually, after four people died in one gun battle, federal troops were brought in to keep the peace. Bloody Harlan has been cited as a major reason for the passage of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which gave the federal government the power to regulate labor contracts and is anathema to everything Rand Paul stands for.

At a coal mine seven miles outside of town, he settles into a meeting room with a mine foreman and his tour guide for the day, a supporter named Tim Rice. The mine is operated by Coalgood Energy, a subsidiary of Massey Energy—the company under fire for the April explosion at its Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, that killed 29 in the deadliest mining disaster since 1970. On the meeting room wall is a quotation from Massey CEO Don Blankenship: "Remain proud and always strive to improve safety."