LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky voters made Rand Paul their next
senator Tuesday in a convincing display of tea party strength that
defied Democratic hopes and early Republican fears that his
ultraconservative views made him unelectable.
The eye doctor and son of libertarian-leaning GOP Rep. Ron Paul
of Texas ran against President Barack Obama about as much as he did
against his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway. Paul's condemnation
of budget deficits, the economic stimulus and the health care
overhaul resonated among voters even as Conway tried to portray him
as too extreme and out of touch on such issues as taxes,
entitlements and drug prevention.
A triumphant Paul promised to take his agenda of limited
government and balanced budgets to the Senate.
"I have a message from the people of Kentucky, a message that
is loud and clear and does not mince words: We've come to take our
government back," Paul told hundreds of cheering supporters in his
hometown of Bowling Green. It was the same message he delivered the
night he won the primary thanks to tea party support.
"The American people want to know why we have to balance our
budget and they don't," he said.
Conway conceded and wished Paul well "as he tries to do right
by our state."
"I told him that if he finds issues we can work on together,
this Democrat is at his disposal," he said.
With 89 percent of precincts reporting, Paul was leading Conway
56 percent to 44 percent in the race to replace Republican Sen. Jim
Bunning, who is retiring.
The videotaped fracas of a Paul supporter stepping on a liberal
activist a week before the election appeared to have little effect.
So did a bizarre anonymous claim from Paul's college days involving
an alleged abduction and alleged something called "Aqua Buddha."
That allegation might ultimately have hurt Conway because he used
it as the basis for an attack ad that raised questions about Paul's
Paul, 47, was an early tea party enthusiast who trounced the GOP
establishment's pick, Trey Grayson, in the primary. Senate GOP
leader Mitch McConnell and others feared Paul's brand of
conservatism might make him unelectable in the fall, but they
quickly embraced him.
McConnell eagerly welcomed Paul as his new colleague, and
praised the newcomer for his message of "reining in outrageous
Washington spending and the overreaching policies of the Obama
Paul suffered a post-primary stumble when he expressed
misgivings about how the Civil Rights Act bans racial
discrimination by private businesses. He later said he abhors
discrimination and would have voted for the 1964 law. He also drew
criticism for decrying Obama's harsh rhetoric against BP over the
Gulf oil spill as "really un-American."
As the campaign continued, however, Paul focused more closely on
his key message of smaller government with a mix of bluntness and
finesse. He talked about possible future changes to Social Security
and Medicare as growing numbers of baby boomers retire, but opposed
changes for current recipients. He said he would propose balancing
the budget in a single year without raising taxes, which would
require cutting the federal budget by more than a third, but he was
short on specifics.
Paul also called for repealing the health care overhaul and
denounced Obama's cap-and-trade environmental legislation as
harmful to Kentucky coal.
Conway said his opponent's position on taxes and entitlements
would inflict economic hardships in a poor state. Conway railed
against Paul for discussing a $2,000 Medicare deductible and the
FairTax, a proposal that includes eliminating the federal income
tax and replacing it with a 23 percent national sales tax.
Outside money poured into the race. Paul was the main
beneficiary, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an alliance with
ties to one-time President George W. Bush political adviser Karl
Rove painted Conway as a liberal Obama backer.
The race turned personal when Conway aired a TV ad that asked
why Paul was a member in college of a secret campus society that
mocked Christians and once allegedly tied up a woman and told her
to worship an idol and claimed his god was "Aqua Buddha." Paul
denied being involved in any kidnapping and said he's a "pro-life
Christian." He later refused to shake Conway's hand at a debate
over the ad, which Paul said was a false attack on his religion.
Though voters were not asked specifically about the "Aqua
Buddha" ad in the exit polling, nine of out 10 who voted for Paul
said Conway had attacked the Republican unfairly.
Tommy Duffy, 58, a sheriff's deputy in Jefferson County, said
Tuesday that he considered voting for Conway until the Democrat ran
the "Aqua Buddha" ad, which turned him off.
"That was pretty much desperation, a desperate shot," Duffy
said. "I didn't like that at all."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)