(CNN) — They’re known for appealing to different factions of the GOP, but Kentucky’s two U.S. senators – Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul – teamed up Monday for three joint appearances to roll out a hemp pilot program in their home state.
And with McConnell facing a GOP primary challenge from a candidate backed by the tea party this year, he was full of praise for Paul, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 with support from that wing of the party.
“The junior senator from Kentucky is a national figure already, deeply involved in the national debate about the direction of this country,” McConnell said while introducing Paul at one of Monday’s events and explaining why national reporters may be covering the program’s rollout. “I couldn’t be prouder to call him my colleague.”
At another event, McConnell also said that Paul, who’s seriously considering a presidential bid, “does a fabulous job” in the Senate.
The hemp pilot program, made possible by the farm bill recently signed into law, reintroduces the crop in the state. Kentucky once thrived off production of the plant, but hemp became illegal when the federal government grouped it in the same controlled substance category as marijuana after World War II.
Paul offered his own praise for McConnell, saying the hemp program would have gone nowhere without his help.
“So I think we really all should understand that we are very privileged to have Senator McConnell and he got this passed for us,” he said.
It’s not unusual for two lawmakers to compliment each other during a joint appearance. But just last week, Paul gave a less-than-enthusiastic explanation for why he endorsed McConnell last March for his 2014 re-election bid.
“One, he asked me, and two, because he asked me when he did not have an opponent. It wasn’t a choice at that time,” Paul said in an interview with the conservative-leaning Blaze last week. “But three, I also am somebody who believes in bringing people together.”
The pair’s relationship has been tense at times, especially given that McConnell endorsed Paul’s 2010 primary opponent, Trey Grayson.
“But since then, they have merged a mutually beneficial relationship here,” Joe Arnold, political editor of CNN affiliate WHAS, said Monday on “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
Some political observers note the dynamics between the two represent a wider divide in the GOP between the establishment and the libertarian leaning base.
But even though McConnell is thought to have a healthy advantage over his primary challenger, Matt Bevin, he still needs to pull voters from the far right into his column–something Paul may be able to help him do.
“There’s no question that Mitch McConnell has seen Rand Paul as an essential player here in Kentucky,” Arnold said.
By Ashley Killough, CNN
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