By Jack Brammer
Democrat Jack Conway charged that Republican Rand Paul is "wrong for Kentucky" on issues ranging from drugs to Medicare, while Paul claimed an interpreter is needed to understand Conway's views on most issues, particularly federal spending.
The two candidates for U.S. Senate traded verbal jabs for an hour in an aggressive, locally televised debate Monday night on the campus of Northern Kentucky University before an audience of about 600.
The debate, the second of five before the Nov. 2 general election, stood out for its tough tone as the candidates restated positions staked out during the campaign. The debate certainly was more tense than the first encounter, earlier this month on Fox News Sunday.
Questioned by a panel of journalists, Conway pounded away at a theme that Paul "does not get Kentucky" and is wrong on issues.
Conway, Kentucky's attorney general, said Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon making his first bid for public office, has said drugs is not a pressing issue, a $2,000 deductible is needed for Medicare and businesses should have more say in whom they serve.
Paul, contending that Conway has distorted his views on many issues, said his greatest attribute in the race is that he, unlike Conway, is not a career politician and wants to minimize government.
Paul sharply criticized Conway for his views on extending tax cuts enacted during the administration of former Gov. George W. Bush.
Paul said Conway first was for them, then against them and is now for them.
"People are ready for straight talk," Paul said, adding that Conway has changed his position on tax cuts so much that even his "liberal supporters are getting tired of his act."
The most heated exchange during the debate came when the candidates were asked their position on federal earmarks. Some critics have said earmarks like local transportation and building projects have increased the federal deficit.
Conway said he is against the abuse of earmarks.
"He's against earmarks but really for them," Paul said, suggesting that an interpreter is needed to understand what Conway actually is saying.
Paul urged Conway to "step up and be a man, take a chance, say you are for something."
Conway replied, "Rand Paul, I'm sick and tired of you putting forward something so callous and acting like it's courageous.
"I'm never going to balance the budget on the backs of seniors. I'm never going to balance the budget by saying a $2,000 deductible is what's needed in Medicare."
Conway said taxes should not be raised during a recession and noted that Paul has called for term limits for political officeholders but not for himself.
The candidates were asked what exactly should be cut to try to control the nation's large deficits.
Paul said the first step would be passage of a balanced budget amendment and then a review of the entire federal budget.
Paul's solution would take too long, because passage of a constitutional amendment requires ratification by states, Conway said.
He said he would like to change the laws so businesses would not be so easily attracted to leave the United States. He also said he favors a "pay-as-you-go" system in federal spending.
Paul emphasized his criticism of President Obama and said Conway has to decide whether to run to or from the president's agenda.
But Conway said the U.S. Senate race is not about Obama, but about who can put the people of Kentucky first in the U.S. Senate.
On the question of the U.S. role in Afghanistan, Paul said the most important vote he would take in the U.S. Senate is whether to go to war.
He said America "should go to war reluctantly" and "constitutionally."
The movement of troops in war should be determined by the president and generals, Paul said, adding that he would welcome a national debate on Afghanistan.
Conway pounced on a 2007 comment by Paul in which Paul said it would not be a threat to this nation's security if Iran got a nuclear weapon.
Conway also criticized Paul for suggesting last year that funding for breast cancer research should come more from state and local governments than from the federal government.
Paul said he supports breast cancer research but that federal government's role in all spending should be reviewed.
The debate was sponsored by NKU, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters and WCPO.
Last week, the format of the debate was changed when Paul complained that the two candidates would question each other. That part of the debate was canceled.
The two candidates are to debate again Thursday in Paducah. The other two scheduled debates are at the University of Louisville on Sunday and on the Kentucky Educational Television network Oct. 25.