Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Rand Paul were warned by the moderator to keep things civil at the start of their Monday debate, the last one of Kentucky's closely-watched Senate campaign. They paid heed – for a few minutes.
Both candidates avoided the nastiest issues of the campaign. Paul did not bring up stories questioning whether Conway, the state attorney general, tipped off his brother that he was under investigation for drug use (Conway denies any impropriety and his brother was never charged). Conway did not revisit allegations that Paul as a college prank “kidnapped” a female friend and forced her to smoke marijuana and worship an idol called “Aqua Buddha.”
Paul had refused to shake Conway’s hand at the end of last week’s debate and had threatened to pull out of this one over the “Aqua Buddha” allegations. The two men did manage a handshake before Monday night's debate.
Even without those topics, the candidates found plenty of opportunities to attack each other. When Conway brought up Paul’s comments on MSNBC that implied he was less than fully supportive of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, Paul responded angrily.
“It was false what he was saying, and he ginned up a lot of interest on this. He had some success, but he was being dishonest, and this has been a recurring theme, that he’s been dishonest.”
Later, after Paul mentioned Conway’s racehorse to point out his affluence, it was the Democrat’s turn to become irate.
“You don’t attack a man’s dog,” said Conway, “and you don’t attack a man’s horse.”
Another testy exchange between the two candidates followed.
Paul: “You have a simplistic worldview. You oversimplify things.”
Conway: “Are you talking down to me?”
Paul: “The thing is, you don’t really want to present the whole facts… you don’t listen. You oversimplify things into sound bytes because all you care about is winning, you don’t want to have an intelligent discussion.”
When they talked about the issues, the candidates remained far apart. Paul, who called President Obama “the most anti-business president we’ve ever had,” criticized the financial reform laws that passed this summer. Conway disagreed. Conway said he wanted to make some changes in the health care law, but described it as a good bill overall. Paul called for its repeal. Paul said he wants to overhaul the tax code and the close the Department of Education, proposals Conway attacked as dangerous.
Most non-partisan polls show Paul, the son of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas., leading Conway by a margin of about five points.