Kentucky has been a reliable Republican state in the Senate, with Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell leading the way. However, Bunning dropped out of running for a third term, and he would have had a hard time winning if he did run. With his seat open, Republicans have to rely on an already divisive figure to keep it. They thought early on that Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson would win the nomination, but libertarian Rand Paul rose up to take the spot in the May 18 primary.
Yet despite some notable controversy, Paul is looking like a solid bet over Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway. Paul’s messages have certainly caught on with a section of Republican voters, and now they may be enough to win over the whole state.
Candidates for Kentucky’s Senate seat (six-year term)
Candidate: Rand Paul
Political experience: Paul is in his first general election, as he is an outsider to the system. But he is a lifelong Republican, although he is classified most often as a libertarian. His father is Ron Paul, once a presidential candidate, U.S. House representative and libertarian firebrand.
Professional experience: Paul is better known in Kentucky as an ophthalmologist, as he owns his own practice in Bowling Green. According to his website, Paul has won numerous awards from Lions Clubs International, which gives eyeglasses to the less fortunate. He formed the Southern Kentucky Lions Eye Clinic in 1995, and has participated in the Children of the Americans Program.
Politically, Paul founded the Kentucky Taxpayers United group in 1993, a non-partisan group which rates elected officials’ voting record on tax issues.
Key issues: Paul has been passionate about lowering taxes, halting federal bailouts, fighting inflation, strengthening national defense and the 2nd Amendment, and using free market principles for health care. He also argues for more transparency on the Federal Reserve and against abortion and amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Endorsements: Sarah Palin, Dr. James Dobson, Freedom Works, the National Tea Party Movement, Steve Forbes, and the Guns Owners of America have pledged their support.
Chances of winning the Senate seat: Although Paul was not on the political radar at the beginning of last year, he has been swept into the favorite position in this race. As of Sept. 7, Rasmussen Reports had Paul up by 15 points over Conway. This has come in spite of some controversial incidents, in which Paul questioned parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and said that President Obama’s criticism of BP sounded “un-American”
The Tea Party and the new tide of Republican supporters have embraced Paul, however, and could sweep him toward a victory. Because Paul has already survived criticism over his statements, there may not be much left that could derail him now.
Candidate: Jack Conway
Political experience: Conway has been Kentucky’s Attorney General since 2007. According to his website, Conway has increased Medicaid recoveries by 600 percent, recovered more than $100 million in pharmaceutical costs for taxpayers, created a Cybercrimes Unit to fight child predators and reduced costs in his own office by 26 percent.
Before he was attorney general, Conway was an aide on the U.S House Banking Committee from 1991 to 1997, then served as deputy cabinet secretary and general counsel to Gov. Paul Patton, from 1996 to 2001. There, he helped develop a higher education reform bill that drastically improved Kentucky’s educational standards. Afterward, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002, but lost the 3rd District vote to Republican incumbent Anne Northup.
Professional experience: Conway put himself through night law school at the University of Louisville, and taught history at Fairdale High School. He has an undergraduate degree in public policy from Duke University, along with a law degree from George Washington University.
Key issues: Conway proposes an economic plan that will create 731,000 jobs nationwide, and nearly 11,000 in Kentucky alone. To reduce the deficit, he has a plan to save $430 billion over the next 10 years, without any tax raises. He has pledged to fight for Wall Street reform, close tax code loopholes and offshore tax shelters, and to make pharmaceutical companies lower the cost of prescription drugs. In addition, Conway plans to expand prescription drug coverage for seniors and strengthen Social Security and Medicare.
Endorsements: Lt. Gov Mongiardo endorsed Conway after he beat him in the Democratic primary, although it took him weeks to do so. The Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police has also endorsed him, due to his work against cybercrime and prescription drug abuse.
Chances of winning the Senate seat: According to most polls, Conway has a long way to go in defeating Paul. He is down by double digits in many projections, and Democrats have not won a Kentucky Senate race in many years. However, Conway’s website points to polls in which he and Paul are in a statistical dead heat, according to the Benenson Strategy Group, Opinion Research Corp and Anzalone-Liszt Research. But to make the other polls reflect that, Conway must get a surge of momentum, or hope that Paul gets himself into more trouble.
Key differences: Conway has formed a website called “Rand Waffles” in which he accuses Paul of flip-flopping on issues like balancing the budget, term limits, Veterans benefits and many other core principles.
Nevertheless, Paul still argues that the debt can be solved by strengthening the dollar and increasing Federal Reserve transparency, while Conway stresses fighting Medicare waste, pharmaceutical companies and tax loopholes. They both oppose federal bailouts, although Conway accuses Paul of going back on his word to not take money from pro-bailout senators.
Last results: The last time this seat was contested, Republican Jim Bunning won re-election over Democrat Daniel Mongiardo in 2004, although it was by just one percentage point. In 2008, Republican Mitch McConnell won his own re-election, over Democrat Bruce Lunsford by five percentage points. No Kentucky Democrat has served in the Senate since Senator Wendell Ford retired in 1998.
Demographics: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Kentucky is 89.6 percent white, 7.9 percent African American, 2.7 percent Hispanic, and 1.1 percent Asian and biracial.