By Ronnie Ellis/CNHI News Service
That controversial ad about Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul’s activities regarding religion during his time as a student at Baylor University 30 years ago continues to drown out all other issues during the closing two weeks of the race.
The ad, run by Democrat Jack Conway’s campaign, asks why Paul joined a “secret society” banned from campus by the Baylor president for “mocking Christianity” and asks why he engaged in a college prank in which a co-ed was bound and asked to acknowledge a fictional god — “Aqua-Buddha.”
It has been condemned by media pundits, Democrats and Republicans. Several campaign watchdog groups have said the ad is accurate but most have also condemned it as “over the top.” Some have pointed to the constitution’s prohibition on a religious test as a qualification for office and say it comes close to evoking such a qualification in some voters’ minds.
On Wednesday it was condemned by Paul’s wife, Kelley, a deacon in a Bowling Green Presbyterian church, who spoke to reporters on the 20th anniversary of her wedding to Rand Paul.
Then state Auditor Crit Luallen, a mentor to Conway and Chair of the Conway for Senate Campaign, weighed in on a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon defending Conway for airing it.
She toed the Conway campaign’s line that the events alleged in the ad show a pattern by Paul “of being out of step with Kentucky values.” “This is not about Rand Paul’s faith — it’s about his judgment and his values, and it’s about those who seek office being held accountable for their actions,” Luallen said.
“The question is not whether the ad went too far,” Lualllen said. “The question is whether Rand Paul went too far. When his actions are as extreme as those cited in the ads, he owes an explanation to the voters.”
But whether the ad went too far is precisely the question Kelley Paul was asking.
“I am truly shocked by Conway’s ads questioning Rand’s faith based on nothing more than anonymous accusations from nearly three decades ago,” she said. “Rand would never try to smear an opponent with baseless, anonymous gossip from their teenage years. I can promise you that.”
The allegations were first raised in articles in GQ and the Washington Post, each of which interviewed the woman involved in the Aqua-Buddha episode. But neither article identified the woman by name, describing her only as a team mate of Paul’s on the Baylor swim team and now a clinical psychologist. Paul has branded them lies and gossip.
He has complained the events took place while he was a college student or as his wife put it during his “teenage years,” but it was Paul who criticized his opponent in the Republican primary, Trey Grayson, for being a registered Democrat while he was a college student.
Luallen was asked if she would have run the ad were she the candidate,
“I can’t put myself in that hypothetical situation,” she said. But she said she supports Conway’s position, adding several outside groups have poured money into anti-Conway ads.
When asked if the ad might tempt Republicans to use similar tactics in future races, she said any candidate should be held accountable for such actions. She said it would be different if these actions were “standalone” events, but they represent a pattern by Paul.
“I would hope that same accountability would be applied to any candidate,” she said. “Women in particular are owed an explanation of actions that were demeaning to a woman.”
Paul still hasn’t decided whether to take part in next Monday night’s debate on the KET program “Kentucky Tonight.” He said this week he wasn’t sure he should appear next to Conway if Conway were going to “question my faith.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.