Analysis: Conway connected better with crowd, Paul more aggressive with contrasts

07/08/2010 09:49 PM

LOUISVILLE — In their first forum of the general election, neither U.S. Senate candidate made a lot of news during the forum at the Kentucky Judge Executive Association and Magistrates and Commissioners Association meeting on Thursday.

Rand Paul, the Republican, said he would filibuster to be heard on a balanced budget amendment. And Jack Conway, the Democrat, piggybacked on Paul’s major message of reining in spending by saying he supports “pay as you go.” They gave their pitches, took some mild shots at each other and fielded several questions from local officials.

But, perhaps most importantly, they offered glimpses in both style and substance about what voters can expect to hear about this fall. Paul sought to tie Conway to national Democrats and paint him as too liberal for Kentucky. Conway calmly rebutted several of Paul’s claims but largely refrained from going on the attack.

Each candidate had a little more than 10 minutes for a statement (Conway took up 12 minutes and 30 seconds, while Paul used 10 minutes and 30 seconds). Then they each had about five minutes for rebuttal and then took three questions from three judge executives — all of whom were Democrats (Tommy Turner of LaRue County, Charles “Doc” Hardin of Magoffin County and Steve Tribble of Christian County).

Here’s cn|2 Politics’ breakdown of what the candidates said and did into five categories: Substance, Proposals, Promises, Plans and Style:

SUBSTANCE

Paul offered his standard stump speech heavily focused on balancing the budget and reducing the nation’s debt. And he stressed his independence from the party structure.

“I think we’d be better off if we had less empty partisanship,” Paul said.

He later gave two examples: that it was unfair that many in the press “vilified” President George W. Bush for the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and that he wasn’t going to “blame” President Barack Obama for the oil disaster in the Gulf, although he said “there are questions he needs to answer” about apparent failures in regulation.

Conway, almost immediately in his remarks, addressed the overarching challenges facing the country, such as 10.5 percent unemployment rates, before offering a more hopeful message.

“You’re hurting right now, and you want things to be fixed and you hope for a better tomorrow,” Conway said. “But these are not the days before the fall of Rome.”

He then adopted a message that Paul has pushed for a year: reining in spending and working to eliminate the debt.

PROPOSALS

Conway:

  • Made a pitch for his “hometown tax credit” that has been the centerpiece of his economic platform. His plan a tax credit for small businesses who hire new employees that is worth up to 20 percent of the cost of each new worker. He has suggested paying for it by closing off-shore tax loopholes.
  • Suggested Congress “clear up lending rules” for community banks to encourage them to loan more to businesses.
  • Called for “a top-to-bottom review of our trade deals” that could stem jobs and money from flowing overseas.


Paul:
  • Outlined his push for term limits, a bold move in front of a room full of local officials some of whom have served in office for decades. He said he wants to see senators limited to two six year terms and congressmen limited to six two-year terms.
  • Mentioned his plan for firms that win government contracts to refrain from lobbying the government.
  • Made a case for not allowing the estate tax to come back on the books in 2011. “Raising taxes in the middle of a recession is a disaster and it could turn a recession into a depression.”


PROMISES

Paul:

  • Balancing the budget. “If I am elected I will force that issue, I will force a vote on the balanced budget amendment, and I will, if necessary, filibuster to be heard on the issue. Our country needs it and someone’s going to have to stand up.”


Conway:
  • Saving Medicare money on the cost of drugs. “The first bill I will introduce will be a piece of legislation to say that Medicare can negotiate for lower drug prices because it will save this country $200 billion.”


CONTRASTS

  • Health care:


The two candidates strongly disagree on the passage of the health care bill in March, which Paul and other Republicans call “Obamacare,” while Conway supports its passage.

“This is something that will be a disaster for our economy,” Paul said.

While letting that dig go, Conway said further reforms are necessary, particularly to end the “sweetheart deals” to drug makers that was inserted into the Medicare Part D policy that President George W. Bush signed into law in December 2003.

During his rebuttal, Paul mistakenly attributed its creation to the health care bill Obama signed in March. Conway corrected Paul but conceded that he was disappointed the latest legislation didn’t address the issue.

“It should have never been taken off the table in this most recent health care reform debate,” Conway said.

  • Environment:


Paul and Conway squabbled over Conway’s position on the proposal to reduce greenhouse gasses by capping emissions and creating a market by which industries could swap or buy credits to surpass those thresholds.

“He was for cap and trade before he might be against cap and trade,” Paul said of Conway’s positions.

Paul later referred to the line of attack Conway’s primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, took against Conway on the issue. “Dr. Dan brought this up and this was a big issue in the Democrat primary. And this is a big reason why a lot of conservative Democrats are not going to be able to vote for Jack because he’s just too liberal,” Paul said.

Conway insisted that the legislation failed his test for how it would affect Kentucky’s coal industry and electricity rates.

  • Utility contributions:


Paul countered Conway’s theme of “accountability” by citing Conway’s acceptance of campaign donations from officials who work for utility companies while Conway, as attorney general, was representing Kentucky citizens in utility rate increase cases. “Do you think we should have politicians overseeing utility rates while taking contributions from utility companies? I think that’s a clear conflict of interst and shows poor judgement,” Paul said.

But Paul gave Conway credit for changing his policy on that, but added “it took him over a year to decide that he wasn’t going to take utility money.”

  • Earmarks:


Paul has said he wants to end the process of earmarks, which allow members of Congress to tag certain amounts of money for specific projects. He said he wants all of that to go through the appropriations committee early on and prevent them from “getting stuck on at the end where there’s no oversight, no review, no cost-benefit analysis of these things.”

That, he said, gives rise to ridiculous projects.

LaRue County Judge-Executive Tommy Turner, who asked the question about earmarks, noted that Kentucky has relied on them for infrastructure improvements.

“Most of the counties in this room, including my own, have benefitted from earmarks through the years, whether building bridges, sewer lines, water lines, flood walls or whatever,” Turner said.

Conway said earmarks shouldn’t be tacked on without review but are necessary for funding such projects.

  • Fighting the illegal drug epidemic:


Another judge-executive, Dr. Charles “Doc” Hardin of Maggofin County asked Paul during the forum whether he would support Operation UNITE, a federally-funded law enforcement and drug treatment program.

“I would rather see drug abuse and dependency treated and paid for at the local level,” Paul said.

Conway pledged his “steadfast support” of Operation UNITE. And Conway repeatedly praised Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset for creating the program and working with Conway’s attorney general’s office on the effort.

“In an era of declining resources … this has to be a collaborative approach. I’m going to have to work, as a Democrat, with Republican Hal Rogers to make certain that Operation UNITE is funded,” Conway said.

STYLE

Neither candidate captivated the room but Conway appeared receive a slightly better reception at the end of his remarks.

Paul entered 15 minutes before the start of the forum and quietly walked down the center aisle to the front row without shaking hands with any of the dozens of local officials who already were seated. Conway entered just a couple minutes before the forum was supposed to begin. He exchanged a half-hearted hand-shake with Paul before sitting down. Conway then gave an awkward wave to the local officials when he was called to the stage.

Paul left out the normal “thank you” to the group for having the candidates there. He opened by noting that he was facing a group where there were more Democrats than Republicans. And he told a joke that fell flat: “If I get anything thrown at me, I guess that means I failed. But I understand you have to check fruit and vegetables at the door.”

Paul did evoke some reaction from the crowd of about 275 local officials came during his answer to Hardin’s question about Operation UNITE. The audience buzzed and grumbled after Paul said that of every dollar that goes to Washington “half of it gets left in Washington, half of it gets wasted, half of it goes to political cronyism.” The rumble in response prompted Paul to add that he wan’t “referring just to this program” but to spending in general.

While Conway’s delivery was smooth, his tone was almost subdued, especially at the start of his remarks. Conway did offer the obligatory appreciation for being allowed to appear and then mentioned that he is “trying to recapture Wendell Ford’s Senate seat.” As one Republican observer pointed out later, it’s an odd approach in this climate to designate a Senate seat as belonging to someone no matter how popular that person is in certain circles, as was shown earlier this year in Massachusetts when the Democrats lost “Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.”

Overall, Conway appeared much more familiar with the audience, complimenting the officials for “what you do on the front lines of government” and dropping the names of several judge executives when referring to specific projects in their counties.

POLITICAL BONUS

Paul ended his first 10-minute set of remarks with a bit of a political assessment of Conway’s chances. “He will have to distance himself from his president and his party if he wishes to have any chance in Kentucky. We’ll see if he can do this. And do this in a believable way.”

- Ryan Alessi

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