Paul, Gray go head-to-head on myriad of issues in first -- and last -- debate

10/31/2016 11:50 PM

LEXINGTON — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray clashed in their first and only debate Monday evening, with both candidates sliding into familiar lines of attack eight days before voters hit the polls.

Gray hit Paul for his “wild ass philosophies and theories” and presidential aspirations during the hourlong forum on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight,” asking the senator whether he planned to serve a full six-year term if re-elected. That prompted Paul to call his Democratic opponent a “hypocrite” as he runs for Senate while serving as mayor of Kentucky’s second-largest city.

“Why don’t you take a pledge to do your job as mayor?” Paul asked.

In response, Gray said he “actually performed in my job.”

“You talk about budgets,” he said. “I met a budget. I had a deficit. I made six years of surpluses out of that.”

Both said they supported their party’s presidential nominee, but Gray avoided criticizing Republican nominee Donald Trump, who is expected to easily take Kentucky’s eight electoral votes despite a difficult path to the White House nationally.

He also avoided uttering Clinton’s name in his answer, saying he’s “the Democratic nominee for the Senate, and I support the nominee of our party.”

Paul was more than happy to take aim at Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, saying that Gray should be disqualified for supporting her.

The senator, who also sought to link Gray with President Barack Obama, has repeatedly assailed Clinton on the campaign trail and continued Monday night, chastising her handling of terror attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, during her time as secretary of state as well as her environmental policies.

When asked whether he would vote for Clinton’s Supreme Court pick if she’s elected Nov. 8, Paul demurred.

“It’s going to be very difficult for me to vote for a candidate who’s come forward saying that they want to abuse the Constitution, abuse the people to allow power to gravitate to the presidency that’s unconstitutional,” he said.

“So I can’t imagine voting for a Clinton nominee unless she were to appoint somebody that actually works under the belief in the separation of powers as the founders wrote into the Constitution.”

Gray called that “another illustration of the gridlock and the dysfunction in our system.”

The two also sparred on a range of national policy issues, including national security, debt, infrastructure, raising the minimum wage and opiate addiction.

Gray urged Paul to explain why he supported the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act but not fully funding the legislation. Congress ultimately approved $37 million for CARA as part of a continuing resolution that will fund the federal government through Dec. 9.

“This is a scourge; this is an epidemic,” Gray said. “… More are dying of heroin, opioid deaths, overdoses than are being lost in traffic deaths across the country, so he should explain that.”

Paul said he would support funding CARA as part of a piecemeal budget process that includes spending reforms.

“What we need to do is actually pass individual appropriation bills and then CARA would’ve been in an individual appropriation bill, which I would have supported,” he said. “But I can’t support just more of the same because I ran for office honestly telling people that the debt is a real problem.”

Afterward, Paul declined to stop and take questions from reporters as he left KET’s studios.

“I enjoyed it,” he said as he brushed past. “I think it was a good exchange of ideas.”

Gray, who trails Paul in public polling and lacks monetary support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other national party groups in his bid to unseat the incumbent, was the aggressor for most of the night, directly challenging Paul to respond to his criticisms on a handful of occasions.

Asked whether he felt the need to take such a tone in his only debate with Paul, Gray said he was simply “calling it like it is.”

“I was myself,” he said. “I was asking the questions that should be asked, and I was asking ‘em.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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