What a start: Controversy, philosophy and a tight contest

05/30/2010 01:55 PM

A Rand Paul bumper sticker

Not even two weeks old, Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race has unleashed deep ideological debates, drawn the attention of the nation’s leading pundits and set up Republican Rand Paul with just a slight lead over Democrat Jack Conway.

“Let’s face it, there are some big differences between Rand Paul and Conway,” Jim Weise, the 2nd congressional district Republican chairman, said last week.

And voters can expect to hear those differences, not just about specific issues like approaches to health care, but in overarching philosophies of the role of government.

So far, Paul has been the prism through which the early days of this U.S. Senate race has been seen by both national observers and Kentucky voters. And so far, voters give Paul an edge over Democrat Jack Conway, the Courier-Journal’s newest poll says.

Everything Paul has said and done from the moment he won the Republican nomination 12 days ago has been scrutinized: His views; His on-again-off-again relationship with the media; And his awkward adoption by Kentucky Republican leaders, who seemed to welcome Paul into the family like wary in-laws.

And what’s clear is all of that attention has helped most voters — at least those 569 likely voters contacted by the Courier-Journal/WHAS poll late last week — make up their minds early. Just four percent of respondents said they were undecided, the newspaper reported. Overall, Paul has a 51-45 lead over Conway with a margin of error of 4.2 percent, the newspaper reported. (Courier-Journal political reporter Joe Gerth has more details about the break-down of the poll results).

The unique characteristics of the race start with the novelty of Paul’s candidacy:

  • The Bowling Green ophthalmologist is a first-time candidate, which has captured the imagination of disgruntled voters who are frustrated with what they see as the caricatures of  politicians.
  • He is the son of a former presidential candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who developed a cult following among the libertarian-leaning and frustrated voters.
  • The two Pauls’ connections to the national tea party movement also have fueled interest, as chronicled in this week’s Time magazine.
  • And Paul’s professor-like approach to answering questions — any question on any subject, in fact — has revealed his views on subjects that are unlike any major political candidate Kentucky has seen in recent years.

The Herald-Leader’s Bill Estep on Sunday wrote an overview of the philosophical framework Paul has laid out so far. The bottom line is that Paul seems to alternate between traditional conservative social positions, such as opposing abortion and gay marriage, and libertarian positions on economics and government regulation.

It’s been that hybrid approach that has gotten him cross-ways with Republican leaders who now have to embrace him and some Kentucky libertarians who once thought Paul could be their guy.

Republican leaders have either tiptoed around Paul’s public questioning of a provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that forbids businesses to discriminate against customers because of their race or, in the case of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, avoided the issue altogether. At the same time, the Libertarian Party of Kentucky issued a statement last week condemning Paul’s remarks regarding the Civil Rights Act.

“Rand Paul’s statements regarding all forms of discrimination are not consistent with, nor do they reflect the views of, the Libertarian Party of Kentucky,” said the statement issued by K. Joshua Koch, the vice chairman of that party. “We condemn bigotry based on any and all factors.”

Koch volunteered for Paul’s campaign during the fall 2009 before leaving disillusioned with the candidate, along with several other staff and volunteers. Koch and other libertarians had gravitated toward Paul because of, among other things, their common views on some issues, such as favoring the repeal of the Patriot Act.

On the Civil Rights Act issue, Paul has said he abhors racism and wouldn’t go to a business that discriminated but questioned whether government should tell any private business how to operate. That fundamental resistance to government regulation, regardless of the intent behind such rules, has been a key tenet of classic libertarianism.

“America under a restored limited government will also be a society with far greater texture, far less anomie and alienation than now,” wrote Charles Murray in his 1997 book, What it Means to be a Libertarian, for instance.

Attorney General Jack Conway talks to Keith Olbermann on May 25

Conway, who has kept a fairly low profile, has hinted that he’s prepared to hit Paul head-on about ideology.

“The problem is that Rand Paul has this world view,” Conway told Keith Olbermann on Tuesday night. “He has this world view that government should never interfere whatsoever with business.”

Conway went on to say that a lack of strong regulations are to blame for two of America’s most pressing problems, an out-of-control banking industry and the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that continues to gush from a former British Petroleum-leased rig.

“We need more accountability on Wall Street with the banks that caused this problem in the first place,” Conway said. “We need more accountability for energy giants like BP, not less of it.”

- Ryan Alessi


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