This article about the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky incorrectly described the state as the 47th poorest in the country. The reference, based on Census Bureau data on the poverty rate for 2008, was to its being tied for 47th richest, or fourth poorest, among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. According to more recent census data, Kentucky has the nation's third-highest poverty rate.
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In Kentucky race, Rand Paul and Jack Conway divided on strategy
In January, in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, Scott Brown (R) rode to victory to replace the late senator Edward M. Kennedy by blasting Washington.
But in May, in a special election to replace the late representative John P. Murtha, Mark Critz (D) won the seat representing southwestern Pennsylvania by touting his knowledge of the district as a longtime congressional staffer, defeating a GOP opponent who constantly invoked Pelosi and Obama.
A federal focus
When Paul won the primary in May over a candidate backed by much of the state's Republican establishment, his victory speech effectively glossed over Kentucky, as he praised the tea party and its influence on politics.
As he stumps across this heavily rural state, the 47th poorest in the country, he rarely talks about agriculture or about collecting aid from the federal government.
Instead, as the longtime eye doctor chatted with voters at a Republican Party breakfast here recently, he mentioned an article he had read in the Wall Street Journal and complained about remarks the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid made praising the British health-care system.
"They say a billion seconds ago, my parents were children, a billion minutes ago, Jesus was alive, a billion hours ago was the Stone Age, but a billion dollars ago, at the rate the federal government is spending, was six minutes ago," Paul declared on stage, to hushed tones from the crowd.
Last month, in an interview with the Associated Press, he played down the importance of drug abuse in the state, saying it was "not a pressing issue" compared with national concerns such as federal spending. He later said drug abuse programs should be funded at the state level, not by the federal government, but emphasized he believes it is a major issue.
Understanding the state
Enter Conway. In the eastern part of this state, abuse of prescription drugs, marijuana and methamphetamines is a rampant problem. The region's congressman, Rep. Harold Rogers (R), has long sought and won federal funding for drug rehabilitation and law enforcement programs to combat the abuse.
To highlight Paul's view, Conway's campaign has organized roundtables and speeches in which the Democrat specifically talks about the state's drug problem and how it can be fought. "He doesn't understand Kentucky," Conway says of Paul on the stump.
Conway makes few nods to the issues that have dominated the political landscape during the past two years. After a speech here where he launched a new campaign office, a woman came up to Conway and asked him "You were for health care, right?" The candidate had not mentioned the issue in his speech and rarely does, but quickly assured her he had.
In an interview, Conway dismissed the notion that he avoids the national issues. He emphasized that he shares Paul's opposition to some of the proposals of congressional Democrats.
"I'm happy to talk about the issues he's talking about," Conway said. "If he wants to talk about cap and trade, I'm against it, I've been against it."
Conway almost never invokes Paul's most widely publicized statement: an assertion this spring that he was not sure he would have supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - a position he quickly changed amid fierce criticism. Conway's advisers say voters are more interested in local and economic issues than in Paul's latest controversial statement.
Operatives in both parties say Paul's comments on drugs and civil rights have aided Conway, who is trailing by just a few points in polls in a state where Obama is highly unpopular.
Paul argues that a Senate election is a national election - and that Conway can't run on national issues because the Democratic Party's positions are so unpopular in Kentucky.
"If you ask most people in Kentucky and in this country what concerns them," he said, "I think you will hear jobs, the economy, the debt. Those are the top three issues."