At breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor this morning, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was asked if he regarded his state’s senior senator, Republican Mitch McConnell, as a “mentor.”

It was kind of a trick question because the two clashed during the 2010 Kentucky Senate primary. McConnell had backed his protege, former Secretary of State Trey Grayson, in the race. Paul was regarded as an upstart, and there was friction between the two camps at the time. (Paul handily beat Grayson.) The two made nice after the primary, though.

In response to the reporter’s question, Paul responded:

You know, (Henry David) Thoreau is a mentor. You know, I think when we call people a "mentor," I think that overstates. We are colleagues, and I do respect him. He has been here a long time and has a lot of knowledge about the Senate, and we work together on a lot of things. We were just down in Kentucky, working on “freedom to fish," keeping the federal government out of our fishing rights next to the dams. …

To tell you the truth, what I would say about Senator McConnell is that I don’t think he ever personally disliked me, you know? People work against each other in campaigns, particularly people who have been involved in politics for a long time and, I think, don’t take it very personally.

The one thing he did, which was I think a very significant thing for me and for the party, was he called us all up three months before the primary and said, "I want you to sign a promise to come to a unity rally three days after the election." It was a stroke of genius to do that because we didn’t bicker. It wasn’t the establishment versus the upstart. Everybody showed up. All of the Republican congressmen showed up. My opponent showed up. It was a smart thing.