Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway said Republican opponent Rand Paul is out of touch with drug abuse woes in eastern Kentucky as Conway picked up a statewide police organization's endorsement Monday.
Conway, who favors using federal money to help state programs, told reporters that Paul's views about federal assistance for local drug enforcement would "handcuff" police efforts to combat illegal drugs, especially in Kentucky's Appalachian region.
"Rand Paul just doesn't get it, he doesn't get Kentucky," Conway said in a conference call. "He doesn't get ... this issue."
Paul, whose limited government views have endeared him to tea party activists, wants to cut federal funding for undercover drug investigations and drug treatment programs.
Paul's campaign said in a statement Monday that he believes in "maximum control by Kentuckians over this process, rather than dictates from Washington, but will work with all concerned for the best outcomes."
After speaking to tea party backers in Campbellsville, Paul said his campaign has focused on the deficit and health care but added, "We should do everything we can to try to stop the plague of addiction."
Last week, libertarian-leaning Paul suggested that eastern Kentucky voters are more concerned about fiscal and social issues than with the illegal drug issue.
The drug issue is sensitive in eastern Kentucky, a crucial battleground in the Senate race and a hotbed for marijuana growers and drug dealers selling prescription pills and methamphetamines.
"The difference between where I am and where Rand Paul apparently is on this particular issue is so stark, and his policies would actually hurt the people of Kentucky," Conway said.
Conway, the state's attorney general, created a task force to coordinate efforts to curb prescription pill trafficking. Last year, that task force was part of the largest prescription pill crackdown in state history, resulting in charges against more than 500 people linked to a drug pipeline between Florida and Kentucky.
State Fraternal Order of Police President Michael "Spike" Jones told reporters that federal assistance helps pay for the considerable overtime logged by officers in tracking down drug dealers.
"We would not be able to keep up with the drug crime without this assistance," he said.
Paul did not respond to the FOP's questionnaire and skipped the group's candidate forum on Saturday, Jones said.
Paul's campaign said he would continue to seek votes from law enforcement officers across the state.
Meanwhile, Paul railed against federal overspending in his speech to about 20 tea party supporters Monday evening in Campbellsville.
Paul claimed the average federal worker makes twice the salary of the average private worker. Bringing federal salaries in line with the private sector would save the government $47 billion a year, he said.
The libertarian-leaning Paul also took a poke at government workers, using a business operator from London who has 56 workers as an example of how the private sector is superior to the public sector.
"If the government took them (over), the 56 workers would complain because they're having to work too hard, and they'd say why don't we hire 200 workers, then everybody could work a lot less.
"The problem with government is, and I tell people this somewhat is jest, it's not that they're inherently stupid, although that's a debatable point. They don't get the same signals that you get in your businesses. ... If you have your own business, you have a signal that makes you efficient. You have to make a profit and you have to meet a payroll."
In calling for a balanced federal budget, Paul urged a review of every aspect of the federal budget to look for savings, including in military spending - another sensitive issue in Kentucky, home to Fort Campbell and Fort Knox.
Paul listed national defense as a top federal priority, but said, "I think you can save in military spending without jeopardizing your national defense, and that's the trick of being a good legislator or a good general."