Politics is a winner-take-all sport. There is no prize for second place. There is no prize for securing a party nomination. One person gains elective office; everyone else has to settle for talking head gigs on Fox News and MSNBC opinion shows.

This brings me to the Kentucky Senate primaries held Tuesday. The media noise is all about Rand Paul’s trouncing of Trey Grayson, 206,000 to 124,000. And deservedly so: a political novice beating the Senate minority leader’s hand-picked candidate by a 5:3 margin is quite an achievement, and quite a testament to the force that the Tea Party brought to bear on the primary.

Meanwhile, Jack Conway eeked out a quiet victory in the Democratic primary for the same Senate seat, beating Daniel Mongiardo by 227,000 to 221,000.

But, again, nominations are nothing but preludes to elections. Neither Rand nor Conway has his hand on a Bible yet. The important question to be asked this Wednesday is whether Rand, or the Tea Party, has a strategy for defeating Conway. After all, the runner-up on the Democratic side had more primary votes than Rand.

Consider this: Comparing primary voting results, Conway starts with a 20,000 vote lead over Rand. Let’s give Rand the benefit of the doubt, and suppose in November he retains every vote cast yesterday for his Republican opponents. That would mean Rand has to convince a whopping 42% of the people who voted yesterday for Mongiardo and the other Democatic candidates to switch to him. That is a monumental undertaking.

It doesn’t take a political genius to understand that Rand was nominated by dominating the rightward end of the political spectrum. He needs to find hundreds of thousands of votes beyond that narrow base. What message will he bring to the November campaign to accomplish that?

Primary results: http://elections.nytimes.com/2010/senate/kentucky

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