Kentucky Senate Race Turns Nasty

If you're looking for negative campaigning, personal insults, and all the other things that make American politics fun, look no further than Kentucky.

It may happen in other races as Election Day nears, but last night’s debate in Louisville made clear that the gloves are off in the race between Rand Paul and Jack Conway:

U.S. Senate candidates Rand Paul and Jack  Conway both came out swinging on Sunday night in their most contentious and personally bitter debate, with Paul saying Conway had “descended into the gutter” with campaign ads about his past.

Paul, the Republican candidate and a Bowling Green ophthalmologist and tea party favorite, hammered Conway, a Democrat and Kentucky’s attorney general, for ads focusing on allegations Paul joined a group at Baylor University that mocked Christians and once tied up a woman and asked her to worship an idol.

“Jack, you should be ashamed of yourself,” said Paul, who described himself as a “pro-life Christian” and refused to shake Conway’s hand after the debate. “Have you no decency? Have you no shame?”

During the debate at the University of Louisville, Conway defended his attacks, which stemmed from published allegations about Paul’s time at Baylor, and refused to apologize.

“Why did he freely join a group known for mocking, for making fun of people with faith?” Conway asked. “And … when is it ever a good idea to tie up a woman and ask her to kneel before a false idol, your god, which you call Aqua Buddha?”

Here’s the ad that set off Paul’s anger:

The Paul campaign responded by putting out this ad, which started running yesterday:

This “Aqua Buddha” story dates back to an August article in GQ which purported to detail some antics that Paul was involved in during his college days at Baylor, including the accusation that he and a classmate “kidnapped” a female friend and took part in some odd ritual of some kind. Paul categorically denied there was any force involved, and the woman who was the source of the GQ article later said that there was no “kidnapping” involved. In the end, it seemed like the whole episode was a rather silly college prank, probably involving marijuana, which Paul has admitted to smoking in college.

The story seemed to die, until Conway unveiled the ad last week, and Paul was visibly angry about it last night’s debate.

Rand Paul continues to lead in the polls, but there hasn’t been a poll released in this race for almost two weeks now, so it’s hard to know whether Conway’s negative campaigning has had any impact at all. The race is still close enough though, that the nastiness is sure to continue, as are episodes like this:

Hang on, there are fifteen days left and the gloves are coming off.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    Graceful guy your boy Doug

  2. If someone personally insulted me like that, I’d react the same way.

  3. Brummagem Joe says:

    “If someone personally insulted me like that, I’d react the same way.”

    Well then you’d be a fool Doug who has forgotten some of those law school lessons on deportment, which is what Paul appears to be in this particular case. At least 50% of political ads contain real or implied personal insults of one sort or another. Or don’t you consider charges that Conway goes around kidnapping women to be a “personal insult.”

  4. This isn’t a courtroom, or law school.

    It’s politics. Conway isn’t concerned about a college prank, he’s using the ad to imply the Paul isn’t a Christian, which is a rather ironic thing for a Democrat to do.

    The gloves are coming off and it’s getting nasty. I love it

  5. Alex Knapp says:

    Personally, I think the Conway ad is pretty appalling. A candidate’s religious beliefs should not be a campaign issue.

  6. Westcliff says:

    Doug — Why do you consider it “ironic” for a Democrat to accuse a political opponent of not being a Christian?

  7. EJ says:

    “Doug — Why do you consider it “ironic” for a Democrat to accuse a political opponent of not being a Christian?”

    Perhaps because its usually the other way around with the democrat bitching about these tactics?

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    Doug Mataconis says:
    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 09:59
    “This isn’t a courtroom,”

    Not entirely true, it’s the court of public opinion and particularly so in a debate which is essentially a mock court. Hurling rather extreme dirt at your opponent and then when he responds getting righteously indignant and making hoity toity gestures like refusing to shake hands isn’t going to redound to your credit outside of kool aiders.

  9. Westcliff says:

    EJ — To be sure, the most obvious example that comes to mind in the current political climate are the accusations that President Obama is not a Christian. Perhaps that is the example Doug had in mind (and perhaps he has other examples in mind as well), but I thought it more prudent to just ask him with presupposing.

  10. Actually, Jack Conway’s ad reminded me most of the ad despicable ad that Elizabeth Dole ran against her opponent Kay Hagen in 2008:

  11. john personna says:

    Paul’s reaction seems fairly reserved to me. Well played.

  12. Brummagem Joe says:

    Since religion is so clearly baloney I’m unmoved by these theological spats but the notion that Paul did himself any good by refusing to shake hand when most people outside of true believers on either side regard political ads as 99% bs seems to me faulty.

  13. Westcliff says:

    Thanks, Doug. That is a pretty nasty example. Sadly, I have no hope such ads will ever cease.

  14. John Personna says:

    When you think about it, shaking would have contributed to uncivil society more than not shaking. It would have said “we’re all pols here, and that stuff is fair game.

    The old word, censure, is sometimes the right one.

  15. Brummagem Joe says:

    “It would have said “we’re all pols here, and that stuff is fair game.”

    And of course Paul is not a pol, I wonder how anyone got that idea.

  16. mantis says:

    If anything, Conway’s ad made me want to vote for Paul, and I think he’s nuts. Course I’m not a Kentucky voter, and I don’t know if they would find that sort of thing persuasive.

  17. Dodd says:

    I’ve known Jack for almost 30 years. I like Jack and even voted for him 2 years ago for AG. But, while I feared this campaign would undermine my regard for him, I never expected anything this low or disgusting. It’s depressing.

  18. wr says:

    Oh, no… someone was mean to little Rand Paul.., and hurt his feelings. Just because he believes it’s wrong for the government to end Jim Crow, or for mine owners to have to follow any kind of safety law, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a warm, wonderful, feeling human being. It just means that he’s incapable of any feeling for anyone but himself. (That is to say, a libertarian.) And thus the wound stings even more…. All Democrats should be ashamed.