(CNN) – Rand Paul is defending his relationship with Mitch McConnell after helping his fellow Kentuckian defeat a tea party-backed challenger in a GOP Senate primary.
"I came out of the tea party movement. I'm very concerned about the debt. I'm very concerned about big government," Paul said on Friday. "But I think the misnomer is to think somehow Senator McConnell isn't. That's what his whole entire career has been predicated upon - fighting against big government."
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The comments by Paul, the state's junior senator, came at a news conference with McConnell in Louisville that was focused on building party unity following a bruising campaign in which the minority leader's opponent, Matt Bevin, got 35% of the primary vote.
Some in the conservative grassroots movement immediately called for Republican voters to unite and support McConnell.
But Bevin has been noticeably quiet and hasn't said whether he'll back his rival–though he flatly stated on election night that he won't back the Democratic nominee.
That's not stopping Alison Lundergan Grimes, however. She's actively going after Bevin supporters. In an open letter Friday to the 40% of Republican voters who didn't vote for McConnell, she argued that a vote for Grimes is a vote for change.
"Yes, we are in different parties, and we have divergent views on some issues. But if you believe that we need a fresh face to shake up Washington, I invite you to join our campaign," the letter stated.
Bevin hit back later Friday with his own letter, saying she doesn't understand "the principles that united my campaign's supporters" and disparaged her stance on a number of items on her agenda.
He agreed with her that Kentucky needs change, but not her kind of change. He made no direct mention of McConnell in the letter.
Come fall, Paul argued that those who identify with the tea party movement will rally behind McConnell to thump Grimes.
But one of the biggest storylines in the primary was Paul's support for McConnell, who famously backed Paul's opponent in the 2010 primary.
The two made amends and McConnell supported Paul in his general election victory.
While they don't always align on issues, Paul on Friday dismissed the notion that he and McConnell clashed on Republican ideology.
Paul noted they've voted the same 87% of the time and they've co-sponsored 144 bills.
"Are we exactly the same? No we're a little bit different. In fact I think he was right 87% of the time," Paul joked, putting his hand on McConnell's back. "He may think the opposite–that I was right 87% of the time."
Paul is making it clear that he intends to campaign heavily for McConnell.
Asked at the event if McConnell will return the favor should Paul run for president in 2016, the Republican leader said "First thing's first."
"We have one in 2014, and then we have another one, and we'll discuss that at the appropriate time," he said.