By Jack Brammer and Bill Estep
In a spirited debate on statewide and national television Monday night, Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Rand Paul accused each other of misrepresenting their views on issues ranging from civil rights to a national sales tax in their race for the U.S. Senate.
The hour-long debate carried live on Kentucky Educational Television and C-Span avoided the squabble over a Conway attack ad that almost derailed Monday’s fifth and final debate before the Nov. 2 election.
Instead, the candidates primarily focused on issues, and photographers said they shook hands at the beginning of the program. Paul had refused to shake hands after an Oct. 17 debate.
Monday night, host Bill Goodman told the two that Kentuckians wanted to hear why they should vote for them, and did not want to hear their attacks.
After providing some biographical information and identifying their favorite state park and last book of fiction read – Lake Barkley and The DaVinci Code for Conway and Barren River Lake and The Poisonwood Bible for Paul, the two agreed that the most important issue facing America is jobs.
Paul placed the blame for the nation’s sour economy on President Barack Obama’s agenda that includes health care reform and increased regulation of financial institutions, and he linked Conway to the Democratic president.
“My biggest fear right now is that the president, through all of this regulation on the economy, is going to keep us from getting out of this recession,” Paul said.
Paul said the answer to improving the economy is more involvement by entrepreneurs and less government regulation.
Conway said he is the only candidate who has a plan to create jobs. His plan includes measures to increase lending to businesses and a tax credit program that he said would create about 750,000 jobs nationwide.
And Conway said the government must police large financial institutions.
“We need prudent regulations in place to make sure Wall Street isn’t gambling with our money,” Conway said.
For the first time in their debates, the candidates outlined their positions on abortion.
Paul said he is completely opposed to abortion. Conway said abortion should be rare, but also safe and legal.
Conway charged that Paul had called for a $2,000 deductible for Medicare recipients, advocated a 23 percent national sales tax and questioned a piece of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlaws segregation at businesses such as lunch counters, then backed away from the positions when they became campaign issues.
“He has to run away from his own words,” Conway said.
Paul, however, said he is against discrimination, does not favor a 23 percent sales tax, and does not want a $2,000 Medicare deductible for current or near-retirees.
Paul said Conway had lied about Paul’s positions: “All you care about is winning,” Paul said.
One issue that has dominated recent discussion in the race got little mention Monday night.
The issue was a TV ad Conway aired about Paul’s involvement in a secret society known as the NoZe Brotherhood while a student at Baylor University in the 1980s.
The ad, which made Paul question last week whether he would participate in the Monday’s debate, said the society mocked Christianity and alleged that Paul tied up an anonymous woman while in college and forced her to bow down to a god named “Aqua Buddha.”
Paul called the ad “all lies,” though the woman insisted the incident happened.
Paul announced Friday that he would be at the final debate out of respect for the voters of Kentucky.
Paul also said he opposes discrimination and does not support a national sales tax.
Concerning the $1 trillion federal stimulus program to create jobs, Paul said it was a failure.
Discounting the “fiction” of how many jobs it saved, the plan cost taxpayers about $400,000 per job created, Paul said.
On the bailout of the nation’s banking system, Conway said it lacked accountability. Paul called it “a failure.”
Asked what should be done with about $50 million left in the stimulus program to help borrowers keep their homes, Paul said the money should go to retire the federal debt.
Conway said he did not support the bailout but said efforts should be made to help people keep their homes.
On foreign policy, Conway said the United States should get more regional partners involved with stabilizing Afghanistan.
Conway accused Paul of saying there is no problem with Iran’s acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Paul said he did not want Iran to have nuclear weapons. He added that his most important voice in the U.S. Senate would be to decide whether the country should go to war.
Before the debate, dozens of noisy supporters of each candidate gathered in front of the KET studios on Cooper Drive as Lexington police kept watch.