Chris Wallace hosted a debate between Rand Paul and Jack Conway on Fox News Sunday this morning, and the friction between the candidates was palpable.
First, Wallace asked the candidates “to lay out what you think is at stake in this election.” Paul, the Republican candidate, responded, “I think this election really is about the president’s agenda,” before concluding “I will stand up against President Obama’s agenda.”
Conway, the Democratic candidate, saw things differently. “It’s a real clear choice,” he said. “I think we need to put the people of Kentucky first. I have stood up for the people, taken on the pharmaceutical companies, taken on anyone that would do wrong by the people of Kentucky” before listing more of his accomplishments.
Wallace soon stoked the fire. He noted that Conway, who’s trailing Paul in the polls, mentions his opponent often — even calling him “crazy.” “I think he is out of touch with the main values of Kentucky,” Conway replied. “I think we value inclusivity. We have 12,000 disabled veterans. I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to say you’re against the Americans for Disabilities Act,” he said, referring to Paul.
Wallace then asked Paul why he didn’t mention Conway in his appearances. “We may wait for him to catch up in the polls and then we’ll refer to him more,” Paul joked. Then, he piled on: “He supports Obamacare, he supported repealing the tax cuts, on cap-and-trade he’s been on both sides of the issue. Cap-and-trade would be a disaster for our economy. If we pass cap-and-trade it will be a disaster for our economy and for Kentucky jobs.”
Continuing Paul’s litany, Wallace asked whether Conway would support “loads” of President Obama’s agenda such as the stimulus and TARP. Conway objected: “These are all hypotheticals. I wouldn’t have voted for the bailouts. There wasn’t enough accountability.” Afterward, he attempted a defense of Obamacare: “I have a friend with a kidney transplant, who says how tough it is to get treatment with preexisting conditions.” He concluded we couldn’t go back to a “pre–World War II system,” which he said his opponent preferred.
Wallace then challenged Paul to explain why he didn’t support the stimulus, which created or saved 17,000 jobs in Kentucky. Paul explained that the stimulus was so inefficient as to spend $413,000 on each job it created or saved. Then he pounded into his opponent: “Jack acts like the money’s for free. The money is not for free.”
Conway took a greater pounding from Wallace who mentioned Conway’s support for the cap-and-trade bill in the House, Waxman-Markey. Again, Conway objected, “I’m against cap-and-trade.” When Wallace cited an editorial in the Bowling Green Daily News which said Conway supported Waxman-Markey, Conway dismissed Wallace’s evidence and said, “I have been consistent.”
Paul saw the opening and seized it: “In June of last year, you issued a statement saying you supported the bill. . . . I met with you . . . [and you said] you could be part of fixing cap-and-trade.” Undeterred, Conway stonewalled: “I have been consistent in my position.”
Unfortunately for the Democrat, Wallace saw another flip-flop on the Bush tax cuts. He cited an article in the Louisville-Courier Journal in which Conway said “I would favor letting expire probably the majority of the Bush tax cuts,” before noting, “Now you’re for extending all of them.”
Conway insisted on his consistency and replied, “It’s no time to be raising taxes.”
Wallace then challenged Paul to get specific — a challenge Conway echoed throughout the debate. How was he going to replace the $4 trillion in revenue that an extension of the Bush tax cuts would eliminate? How, namely, was he going to adjust entitlements?
Paul danced around the issue. “I don’t think you do anything to those currently receiving,” he quickly noted. Still, he eventually admitted, that “the younger generation” — that is, those under 55 — would see “eligibility changes.”
Winding up, Wallace introduced a local topic: the rise of drug abuse in Kentucky. Paul made a passing mention of his concern before giving Conway another lump: “Under his watch, meth labs have doubled . . . he’s been out of the state 14 of the last 20 working days.”
Conway defended his work on meth labs — his office had found more labs, thus the statistical increase — before firing back that this was “another example where Rand Paul doesn’t get Kentucky. I have mothers crying on my shoulders because their daughters overdosed on oxycontin.”
To conclude, Wallace asked each candidate how he envisioned his role as a senator. He asked Conway if he would be to the left of President Obama, considering the Democrat’s signing on to a MoveOn.org policy platform, which called for card check and repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” He also asked whether he would support Harry Reid for majority leader.
“Harry Reid’s in his own race right now,” said Conway, before backtracking, “I like Harry Reid. I’m certainly not going to be to the left of President Obama. I’m going to put Kentucky first.”
Wallace questioned Rand, similarly: Would he vote for Mitch McConnell — that is, and not for Jim DeMint — for majority leader? Paul reiterated his support for McConnell though he added, “We’ll have a caucus [to determine] the Republican leader. I presume that will be Mitch McConnell.”
Rand, who earlier in the race caught flak for his free-wheeling style, has learned the politician’s art of giving as few details as necessary. His opponent, however, hasn’t yet learned the related art of flip-flopping as gracefully as possible.