Ky. Dem warns it's a 'mistake to underestimate' Rand Paul
© Greg Nash

Kentucky Democratic Rep. John YarmuthJohn YarmuthWhite House budget chief apologizes to CBO analyst Ex-CBO directors offer scathing criticism of Mulvaney Key Dem: Mulvaney should apologize for attack on CBO analyst MORE warned Friday that it’s “a mistake to underestimate” Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulOvernight Cybersecurity: Trump tweetstorm on Russia probe | White House reportedly pushing to weaken sanctions bill | Podesta to testify before House Intel Rocky rollout for Senate healthcare bill Overnight Healthcare: Latest on Senate healthcare bill | Four conservatives say they'll oppose | Obama slams bill | Health groups offer scathing criticism MORE (R-Ky.) this fall, but Yarmuth said he still believes if Paul wins the GOP presidential nomination, Democrats could beat him.

“I think it’s a mistake to underestimate him, and I’ve been telling people for months that in my opinion, if [former Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush does not run, Rand Paul has as good or better a chance of being the nominee as anyone else on the Republican side,” he said on Friday on the “Bill Press Show.”

But he added: “Now I would love for us to run against him. I don’t think he could ever be elected president.”

Paul’s stock has risen in the GOP over the past year, as he’s made efforts to expand his appeal beyond his libertarian and conservative base and reach out to minorities and more establishment Republicans. According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, he now leads the potential Republican presidential pack nationally and has topped the field in the last three consecutive polls.

Yarmuth said, while he feels Paul is beatable in the general election, “he touches some very sensitive chords in America.”

“He rings peoples’ bells. He’s very, very smart, and he’s somebody who’s not really threatening in any way — he’s not in-your-face like [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie is — so I think he could catch on. But again, I don’t think he could ever be elected president. He’s done so many things that are so far out of the mainstream of American thinking that they would come back to haunt him,” Yarmuth said.

He cited in particular Paul’s previous opposition to the Civil Rights Act, which he recently walked back, as he continues his outreach to minorities. Yarmuth said that wasn’t enough.

“Most of the African-American community in the district say, ‘We appreciate the fact that he reaches out to us. … he is sensitive to some of the things we care about, but he has got to back that up with a voting record before we support him,’ ” Yarmuth said.