By Perry Bacon Jr.
Monday, October 25, 2010; 10:58 PM
An irritated Rand Paul (R) repeatedly accused his opponent in Kentucky's Senate race of mischaracterizing his views Monday night in the final debate of a campaign that has turned extremely contentious.
The tenor of the race changed markedly earlier this month, after Democrat Jack Conway released a controversial ad that questioned Paul's behavior in college. The "Aqua Buddha" ad, which has dominated headlines both in Kentucky and nationally, was not specifically discussed Monday, but Paul repeatedly called Conway "dishonest" and said that Conway had attacked his religion.
In one exchange, Paul responded to a criticism from Conway by saying, "You have a simplistic world view." Conway snapped back, "Are you talking down to me?"
"You don't listen," Paul answered. "You oversimplify things into sound bites because all you care about is winning. You don't really want an intelligent discussion."
Conway spent much of the evening repeating a variety of controversial statements Paul has made in the past but distanced himself from during the campaign, including his criticism of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his suggestions of putting a $2,000 deductible on Medicare coverage and a national sales tax to replace the current income tax system.
Rather than addressing the specific charges, Paul repeatedly said his opponent was dishonest and then tried to shift back to his broader theme: Conway would support the agenda of President Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky, if he were elected to the Senate.
"The leader of your party, the guy you supported in the primary, your kind of Democrat, President Obama, is a disaster for our country," Paul said. "He's bankrupting us."
Conway did not try to defend Obama, instead saying that he had not endorsed him in the 2008 presidential campaign.
The debate resembled much of the last several months of this race, as Paul highlighted his views on the major national issues, repeatedly declaring that he had opposed the stimulus and health care bills passed under Obama and the bill to aid failing Wall Street firms under President Bush. He also highlighted some of his more controversial views, such as eliminating the federal Department of Education and said, "The tea party movement is amazingly big and strong."
Conway, meanwhile, sought to hammer on Paul's unusual stands while distancing himself from Washington Democrats. Conway repeated his opposition to the "cap and trade" climate bill that passed the House last year, and he defended parts of the health care legislation but emphasized it was "not a perfect bill."
The debate, which was held in Lexington, Ky., was hosted by the Kentucky Education Television and aired nationally on C-SPAN.
The two men also had a belligerent debate Oct. 17 in which an angry Paul said, "Jack, have you no decency," and refused to shake the Democrat's hand after Conway defended his controversial ad.
That TV spot noted that Paul, as a college student at Baylor University, belonged to a secret brotherhood that mocked Christianity, along with much else. Citing an article from GQ, the advertisement also claimed as part of that brotherhood, Paul tied up a woman and forced her to use marijuana and bow down to a god named "Aqua Buddha."
The ad drew national attention and criticism even from some Democrats, Paul has not spoken in detail about the allegations, but has said he did not kidnap anyone or force them to use drugs.
Furious about the ad and Conway's defense of it, Paul had considered not showing up at this debate, the fifth and final one of the campaign. But not showing up could have hurt him in one of the few Senate races where Democrats have a chance to capture a seat currently held by a Republican. The winner would replace the retiring Sen. Jim Bunning.
Paul, plagued by some controversial comments earlier in his campaign, holds a single-digit lead over Conway in state polls. A win by Conway would virtually guarantee that Democrats keep control of the Senate.