Conway reflects on 'Aqua Buddha' ad, says it 'went against his gut'

01/21/2011 07:04 PM

FRANKFORT — While sitting in a hotel after a long day campaigning last October, Jack Conway got the first glimpse at the “Aqua Buddha” ad that would end up being the most talked about — and much maligned — commercial in Kentucky’s 2010 U.S. Senate race.

His campaign team asked him to make a decision on it, he told reporters on Friday.

It was a decision Conway said “went against his gut.” But, down in the polls and only weeks from Election Day, he said he felt pressured to move quickly on it. Conway said his initial reaction to the ad was that it was as “harsh as mule’s breath.”

The ad ran and opened Conway up to a flurry of criticism in the media and at the hands of his opponent, Republican Rand Paul, who went on to win the race by double digits on Nov. 2. While Conway said it might have affected “my brand a little bit,” he didn’t believe the ad cost him the race.

The “Aqua Buddha” ad questioned Paul’s decisions in college and referred to a prank he allegedly played on a female member of the Baylor University swim team in the 1980s in which he and another swimmer whisked her out of her room and took her to a stream to pray to “Aqua Buddha.”

Paul accused Conway of going too far with the commercial by seemingly questioning his faith. Conway, at the time, defended the ad as a way of “standing up for myself.”

Conway, who announced he was running for re-election for attorney general on Friday, talked candidly about the ad with the Frankfort press corps for the first time. Al Cross had been the first to report how the ad came about in his post-election column in the Courier-Journal on Nov. 7. Cross quoted Conway’s friend and state Auditor Crit Luallen that Conway was “very uncomfortable” with the Aqua Buddha ad and quoted Conway discussing the conversations he had with his consultants.

Still, Conway admitted on Friday that he still didn’t have all the answers people were looking for.

He vowed never to go against his gut again on a campaign commercial.

Conway also announced Friday he would go with a new campaign team for his re-election run as attorney general. After a long Senate race in which Conway said multiple people were in his ear, he said he’s opting for a “new perspective” from his staff for re-election.

-Reporting and video by Kenny Colston

(Clarification: An earlier version of this post failed to mention that Al Cross initially reported how Conway made the decision to go forward with the Aqua Buddha ad.)


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