Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 17, 2010

CONWAY REACHES FOR THE KITCHEN SINK.... In Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) is trailing right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R), but the underdog appears to be within striking distance. With two weeks to go, the Democratic campaign is prepared to do what it takes to close the gap.

That, apparently, includes this bizarre new ad, going after Paul's controversial background, including the secret society he joined in college, which mocked Christianity, and Paul's drug-induced fondness for the "Aqua Buddha."

I have no idea whether something like this will be effective. Kentucky's cultural conservatism and strong evangelical majority may respond well to the message, and reinforce fears about Paul's personal oddities. (The point is spelled out plainly in the ad's conclusion: "Why are there so many questions about Rand Paul?")

Still, I much preferred when Democrats didn't attack rival candidates over their religious beliefs.

What's more, I also think Conway has an even stronger line of attack going after Rand Paul's support for a regressive 23% sales tax on everything Kentuckians purchase. Not only has the Republican candidate endorsed the radical idea, he's even lied about it.

This week, Paul told reporters of the tax scheme, "I haven't really been saying anything like that." But the evidence to the contrary is clear -- Paul endorsed the 23% sales tax in writing; in April he delivered a speech calling it a "great" idea; and he's expressed his support for the tax policy over and over and over again.

Forget Paul's quirky religious background and his college days; this seems like the real vulnerability.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Having spent a couple of years across the river from Kentucky (in Evansville, Indiana) and spending a lot of time in Western Kentucky, this kind of ad might very well work. Taxes are taxes, but faith and practice are very, very important... and this might make a difference.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on October 17, 2010 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

He wants to end 'Faith-based Initiatives?' God, I'd almost vote for Paul for that.
The goverment needs to get out of that racket.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on October 17, 2010 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, boo hoo, a Democrat is playing to win for once.

Posted by: gussie on October 17, 2010 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

1) I don't think a little collegiate blasphemy constitutes a "religious belief." Does anyone suppose that Paul, then or now, himself embraced a sincere worship of the Aqua-Buddha?

2) I think Paul's regressive taxation schemes do constitute a religious belief. They certainly aren't based in sound economics or public policy. And such superstitious beliefs of candidates should be exposed to the electorate: we ought to know if the candidate is a global warming denier, a chauvinistic bigot, obssessed with imaginary satanic plots, or punitively homophobic, regardless of the likely religious groudnings for such positions.

Posted by: 1st Paradox on October 17, 2010 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

Paul's libertarianism is hardly a good fit for Kentucky. Morevoer, libertarianism is as much a religion as it is an ideology. The Republican Party clearly has a problem with "false idols" (e.g., supply-side economic theory) and it's hardly inappropriate to point this out. That Paul has freely given the Democrats an opening on this front is a bit of freebie. Or do you walk past that dollar on the sidewalk merely because it's not "yours"?

Posted by: walt on October 17, 2010 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Never though I'd say this, but I LOVE that he is questioning Paul's religious beliefs. I'd like to see Dems do this everywhere.

Not that I like it, but there's something about fighting fire with fire. What goes around, comes around is a deterrent unless one side is a bunch of pansies, and we've been pansies so long that the Repugnant ones believe they can do anything without a down side.

On that note, I wish I was a Dem Senator the next time the Republicans take control. On the first day when there is a call to order, I'd stand and say "I object" and demand to see the 60 votes.

Posted by: Mark-NC on October 17, 2010 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

Um, well, I would certainly prefer that a Democrat not refer to the Buddha as "a false idol."

Posted by: rabbit on October 17, 2010 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Conway is, in most surveys, trailing by a fairly narrow margin. This ad is about hammering away at that margin by trying to get some religious folks to stay home or not vote for Paul, even if they don't actually vote for Conway. It's not about targeting every single religious voter; it's about hoping it will make enough of those folks stay home or vote for someone else to make a difference.

Posted by: RPM on October 17, 2010 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

This ad will work in Kentucky. The only thing that would have been better is if Democrats had some shawdowy "Christian" group to carry this message. Negative is designed to suppress the vote. It usually hurts the attacker as well the
target. I third party group could have deflected a little of that negativity from the Conway.

That is one advantage Karl Rove has this cycle. The business as usual Democrats don't even know the rules have changed.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 17, 2010 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

Hooray! We need more Democrats putting up the kind of ads that Republicans have been using for years. Dems need to realize that playing "nice" isnt going to win them elections.

Posted by: Les Ismore on October 17, 2010 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

"we ought to know if the candidate is a global warming denier, a chauvinistic bigot, obssessed with imaginary satanic plots, or punitively homophobic, regardless of the likely religious groudnings for such positions." Posted by: 1st Paradox

-you say that like those are BAD things. . . (For those not familiar with my ideology, this is a 'snark')

Posted by: DAY on October 17, 2010 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

Excuse me, but if the D's are going to win now and in the future, they do NOT need to play nice. They've tried that and see where that got them?

Posted by: Roger on October 17, 2010 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Really, the issue of 23% tax? In Kentucky? That takes math! Now, ad hominem, them's somethings a good voter could spit on!

The takeaway from the ad? Rand Paul's too much of a dangerous thinker for Kentucky. -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on October 17, 2010 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

I grew up in Kentucky, and this will work.

I'm stunned at how the liberal blogosphere -- you, TPM, Balloon Juice -- just completely misreads this ad.

It's not about Paul's college days or his own quirky religious background. It's calling bullshit on Paul's claims that he's one of the religious right.

He has been pandering hard to religious conservatives here, and all this ad does is throw his past contempt for Christianity back in his face.

And if you don't think the religious conservatives he's been pandering to are going to be put off by his claims -- especially the "your God is Aqua Buddha" statement -- then you don't understand the first thing about Kentucky politics, or politics in the South at all.

This is a winner, and Conway is smart as hell to push it. Maybe if more national Democrats understood that, we could be free of McConnell and his kind in Kentucky.

Posted by: Brian on October 17, 2010 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK


Conway is peeling away Rand Voters with this ad. Those idiots are not the people who have the intellect to understand the kind of "rational arguments" you effete New England lib'ruls want to engage in. They do respond to questions of whether Rand Paul is a heretic (which he is).

Whatever it takes. The only "good Republicans" are pushing up daisies.

Posted by: TCinLA on October 17, 2010 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

Use all of it! Whatever he dabbled in in college doesn't sound like anything but new age-y, pseudo-spiritual garbage, so who cares. Do whatever it takes to keep this nut--and any of the others--from winning.

Posted by: Varecia on October 17, 2010 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

You've got to put the slop where the pigs can get at it. When you're trying to win the votes of idiots (not picking on Kentucky here, this is a nation of idiots), you'd better be ready to say and do some pretty ugly and stupid crap.

Of course in a healthy, functional society such tactics would backfire, but that ship clearly sailed and disappeared over the horizon some time ago. As Don Rumsfeld might say, you go to election day with the electorate you have, not the electorate you wish you had.

Posted by: Joe Bauers on October 17, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

It's about time someone called the Randites out on their anti-Christian ideology. Part of the point being that the anti-Christian part of the Rand ideology are aimed at the parts of the Christian message (we are all children of a God who loves and values us all) that secular liberals ought to agree with or accept changing the specific Christian and theist language.

And with all due respect to Buddhism, silly college boys and others in this culture have reduced the poor guy to an idol for years.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on October 17, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

You've really missed the mark here, Steve. As others have already pointed out, voters care about the "issues" they care about, not the ones we WANT them to care about. Consider the average voter who's planning to vote for Rand Paul. By definition they cannot be reached with reason - otherwise they wouldn't be planning on VOTING FOR RAND PAUL. If they were susceptible to logic, they'd never consider voting for Rand Paul in the first place. So why would you waste money on ads constructing logical or reasonable arguments about why they shouldn't vote for Rand Paul?

Secondly, it's not as if a huge amount of polling and focus group testing doesn't go into these ads before campaigns drop bundles of money to air them. If Conway's running this ad, it's because it performed well with focus groups. What, he should run ads that perform LESS well with focus groups just because the people who would vote for him anyway approve of the message?

That's not the way to win.

Posted by: Jennifer on October 17, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

What everyone else said -- this is a good ad.

I think you're missing the point here, Steve, in seeing this as an either-or proposition. Conway is smartly pushing a "not one of us" theme against Paul, and it works on multiple fronts: seniors hear he wants a $2000 deductible, working class families hear about the 23% VAT proposal, and religious conservatives hear this ad which, as many others have said, WILL resonate with religious voters.

Conway is only a few points down, and if he can just peel away a small portion of each of those constituencies listed above, he wins.

Posted by: TR on October 17, 2010 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

It's about time someone got after Randy for his beliefs in Ayn Rand's Objectivist Atheism - in the middle of Xtian america..

And before anyone gets in my face for sinking down to their level, let me ask??
Do you want to win or what?

Posted by: cwolf on October 17, 2010 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

"Still, I much preferred when Democrats didn't attack rival candidates over their religious beliefs."

That is downright dorky! Earth to Steve: religion is politicized now and it ain't going back to any separation no matter how long you hold your breath. If you can't take the heat, get out of the chapel. :-)

Posted by: Bob M on October 17, 2010 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Thank God (whatever manifestations) there are at least some Dem's who get it.
Too bad they seem to be mostly commenters on blogs, rather than candidates, officeholders, campaign directors, and the like.

Posted by: smartalek on October 17, 2010 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

I've been seeing a number of Dem candidates using the 23% national sales tax to attack Republican opponents -- and I'm not sure how much it resonates, mainly because it has not been an issue that the GOP has been pushing publicly. Politically active blog readers like the folks here have heard of it, but most people out in the country haven't. Attack things that are on folks' minds -- to too many people the tax angle comes out of the blue and sounds manufactured. Rachel Maddow had a good segment on this and other lame Democratic ad strategies last week.

Posted by: BAt on October 17, 2010 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

the point is probably over the head of most Kentuckians, hopefully it will sink in. I like the comment in one story about this that said: "(It's not easy to explain how you can be a devotee of Ayn Rand and a "pro-life Christian.")"

Rand's hypocrisy is fair game.

Posted by: andyvillager on October 17, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

This ad makes me want to give Conway some money.

Posted by: potroast on October 17, 2010 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

No offense, Steve, but only a Democrat would say a line of attack on 'issues' that includes the word 'percent' is better than a good old-fashioned 'my opponent is a loon.' As someone said above, this is aimed squarely at getting some Rand Paul voters to think twice and stay home.

Posted by: Nick in PA on October 17, 2010 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, Steve, this is politics. Taking the high ground is what has put the Democrats in the toilet. The country is about to elect a bunch of right-wing extremists, and the least the Democrats can do at this late stage is fight back. Had the Democrats had a real message machine and struck back quickly and aggressively during the health care debate, they wouldn't be losing to oddballs like Sharron Angle and Rand Paul. The GOP has been nuking the Democrats with outright lies and distortions for two years, and the Democrats have responded by begging for more. If there's any doubt, look at the polling on health care. Most Americans oppose it, but when asked about each of the individual components, they approve of those measures by a wide margin. I'd say the Dems have a serious problem with messaging. If the party doesn't put together a first-rate political message machine after getting their butts kicked in November, they are truly hopeless. Say hello to President Palin.

Posted by: ameshall on October 17, 2010 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

This is a GREAT ad. I have to agree with everyone else, here. "The bible is a hoax" beats "blahblahblah percent etc VAT zzzzzzzz" any day. Welcome to Idiocracy.

Posted by: Steve Simitzis on October 17, 2010 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

It buoys me to see all the common sense here about winning elections in this thread. Steve could learn from you guys.

Posted by: Hieronymus The Troll Braintree on October 17, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you think Conway's ad is beyond the pale?
Conway's ad is just what's needed. What's more, Paul knows it's likely to work, because he's already come out with a rebuttal along the lines of "I've always been a good Christian, yada, yada, yada". I see absolutely no reason why Dems should sit, all prisms and prunes, like a bunch of ladies at a Queen's tea party, while everyone else around them fights like a bunch of thugs.

What's beyond the pale is ads like this one:
Which, beyond being revolting and full of lies, masquerades as an issue (anti-abortion) ad and, probably, getting all sorts of protections against donor disclosure as well as tax breaks on being "educational", is strictly political. Obama as the Angel of Death??? Ye gods!!!

Posted by: exlibra on October 17, 2010 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps I'm biased, but it appears to me that the ad isn't attacking Paul's religion so much as his hypocrisy. Of course, he's another "do as I say, not as I do" type, so this might piss off enough supporters to either stay home or, an even more radical idea, actually LOOK at his previous statements on just about everything.
Neither course will help him at the polls...

Posted by: Doug on October 17, 2010 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK

When you're trying to win the votes of idiots (not picking on Kentucky here, this is a nation of idiots), you'd better be ready to say and do some pretty ugly and stupid crap.

- Joe Bauers

an example of snobbery at its worst.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on October 17, 2010 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

@mudwall jackson:

This is a country in which less than half of adults can name all three branches of government. And where twice as many can name the most recent winner of "American Idol" as can name the most recently confirmed Supreme Court justice. Most believe that Arizona's fascist immigration law is A-OK and that while the government can't be trusted, letting it torture people suspected of terrorism is a good idea.

If it's snobbery to not pretend that these are thoughtful, knowledgeable people immune to silly stunts like the Aqua Buddha ad, then I'll own that.

Posted by: Joe Bauers on October 18, 2010 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

The "Fair Tax" is not a 23% sales tax. It is more like 30%, and that is if you believe proponents' overly-optimistic numbers. The 23% figure comes from advocates trying to figure the tax like an income tax, rather than the way we all know sales taxes to be figured, to make it look less scary.

See here for more.

Posted by: Gromit on October 18, 2010 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK



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