Jack Conway, Rand Paul debate on KET, crowd action draws attention

Jack Conway and Rand Paul on KET Senate Debate Oct. 25

The two men vying for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Southgate) met Monday night on the set of KET’s “Kentucky Tonight” for the last of five debates before the Nov. 2 vote.

An altercation between people in the crowd outside the KET headquarters on Cooper Drive near Commonwealth Stadium before the debate was videotaped by local television news and was attracting Internet attention late Monday and early Tuesday.

In an hour-long program that was broadcast on C-SPAN nationwide, host Bill Goodman opened with questions familiar to most Kentuckians: Essentially — Who are your people? Where are you from?   Conway outlined a childhood as the son of an Army vet who put himself through law school at night and as the grandson of veteran L&N Railroad worker, mentioning three siblings, high school training at St. Xavier in Louisville and college and law school.  Rand Paul highlighted that he grew up in a small town where he could safely ride his bike to all activities as a child  and that his choice of a small town in Kentucky, where his wife of 25 years is a native, has offered his own three children the same stability. Paul also mentioned that he coaches youth sports including Little League and soccer, but jokingly declined to discuss his win-loss record.

Goodman asked the duo about the most recent work of fiction that each had read. Paul said he had most recently finished “The Poisonwood Bible,” a novel set in Africa, written by Kentuckian Barbara Kingsolver. Conway said that he spends much of his time reading non-fiction, but the last novel he read was probably “The DaVinci Code,” by Dan Brown.

Questions moved into the area of campaign and policy priorities, with the candidates discussing jobs and their different plans for creating them, the stimulus package by the federal government, the cap and trade policy, the national healthcare policy and how it might affect Kentuckians and proposals/stances by both that have been disputed in the media.

Callers from across the state were piped into the studio, with the first one asking such a specific question to Paul that he joked “I don’t think this is an undecided voter.” People were also allowed to e-mail questions to the candidates.

Republican Dr. Rand Paul on KET Senate debate, Oct. 25, 2010

The debate got testy at points, with Paul criticizing what he called Conway’s limited “world view,” and Conway asking Paul point-blank — “Are you talking down to me?” However, the exchange was not nearly as heated as the previous installment in the five-debate series, which had been held at University of Louisville.

And, the issue of “Aqua Buddha,” a college incident that Paul is reported to have participated in which he and another Baylor University student took a woman from her home, tied her up, forced her into a creek and to swear allegiance to a marijuana water-pipe called “Aqua Buddha,” did not come up. Ads by the Conway campaign that have been airing statewide questioned Paul’s faith and related the incident, calling the bong a “false idol.”  Voters on both sides of the aisle have been debating the ad hotly. In the U of L debate, Paul said that Conway had gone too far with that ad and threatened not to participate in Monday’s KET program.

Jack Conway on KET Senate debate, Oct. 25, 2010

Before the show taping began, supporters of both candidates gathered outside KET studios, which are adjacent to the UK campus on Cooper Drive. With about 100 people in the crowd holding Conway and Paul signage, an altercation broke out and was taped by television news crews. A woman who was wearing a blonde wig and a red sweater and holding a sign that made her appear like a Paul supporter though she is part of MoveOn.org, a Democratic-leaning activist group, was grabbed and forced to the curb by one man. Another man, who was wearing Paul supporter attire stepped on her head, pressing it against the curb.  The woman was able to talk to television reporters after the incident.

The videotape of the “curbstomping” was picked up and circulated across the incident as local stations in Lexington and Louisville broadcast their coverage.

Conway, the commonwealth’s attorney general, and Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon, are vying for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, of Northern Kentucky. Polls show Paul leading Conway in the race. The winner will join Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator and the Senate Minority Leader in Washington.

Paul’s backing by Tea Party factions has brought national attention to the race, which is being considered one of several bellwethers of mid-term voter sentiment about the country.