NBC News -- in a complete non-surprise -- has declared Republican Rand Paul the winner in the Kentucky Senate race, beating out Jack Conway with a projected 52 percent of the vote.
Conway's bid was always a long shot; Rand Paul might have had stomp-happy followers, but Kentucky is a conservative state with double-digit unemployment and an energized Republican Party. The conditions were never entirely present present for a Conway victory, and they quickly dissipated in the last weeks of the contest, as his campaign faltered (the "Aqua Buddha" ad wasn't particularly well received), and traditional Republican voters came to the fold (early exit polls show large support from evangelical Christians).
Two things are worth noting. First, Paul is not the strongest candidate; Conway only had a slim chance, but it was a chance, and Paul's antics and views turned Kentucky into something of a toss-up. He could easily lose his seat in 2016 if it is a less favorable year. What's more -- and as a consolation to progressives -- Paul doesn't make the Senate much more conservative than it already was; after all, he's replacing the arch-conservative Jim Bunning, who infamously placed a hold on extending unemployment benefits earlier this year. Rand Paul is a Tea Partier, yes, but at this point, he only looks marginally more right-wing than Bunning.
-- Jamelle Bouie