Democrats in Kentucky are high on the possibilities of debating drug enforcement with Rand Paul. The Republican nominee for Senate has advocated cutting federal spending on drug enforcement, which he has said should be left to the states. Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee (and the state’s attorney general), is ripping Paul for the stance and claiming that Paul is ignoring Kentucky’s many drug problems.
The result is a strange alternate reality where the Democrats think they have the upper hand on the tough-on-crime stuff — and the Republicans are shying from a fight over law and order. There are signs that Paul’s views are costing him dearly in the relatively tight Senate race: yesterday, the Fraternal Order of Police in Kentucky backed Conway, citing, among other things, his work to fight drug abuse in the Bluegrass State.
What exactly does Paul believe when it comes to drugs? He wants the federal government to dramatically lower its drug enforcement profile. “Paul wants to cut federal funding for undercover drug investigations and drug treatment programs,” the AP reported last week. “He said he is opposed to the legalization of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes. But he also has called drug sentences of 10 to 20 years too harsh.”
Paul told the AP that he thinks too much is made of the War on Drugs and its impact on the election. “I don’t think it’s a real pressing issue,” he told the AP. Paul maintains that voters in Kentucky’s drug-plagued rural areas care more about fiscal policy and other issues then they do about federal drug enforcement money.
It’s clear Conway sees an opening thanks to Paul’s line. But even before the Republican mused on how much Kentuckians care whether the federal government is in the drug enforcement business, Conway supporters were arguing that the issue is a natural winner for them. Paul’s less-than-Draconian views on drugs clash with Conway’s tough-guy law enforcement image. If Conway is “just say no,” Paul seems to be more nuanced.
“I think drugs are a scourge but at the same time I also understand that teenagers — people that you may be related to, people that I may be related to — have had drug problems,” Paul said, according to the AP.
“What he needs to do is get off Fox News and get in his car and go to eastern Kentucky and learn about the problems with marijuana, the
problems with meth,” Conway told WMYT-TV recently. “We have county judges in eastern Kentucky that will tell you that we’ve lost a whole generation to drugs. He just doesn’t get it.”
The Fraternal Order of Police seems to agree with Conway’s view of things. “Jack Conway has been a strong, effective Attorney General. From helping close down the prescription pill pipeline from Florida to confiscating 70,000 child pornography images, nobody is tougher on crime than Jack Conway,” Kentucky FOP President Spike Jones said in a statement yesterday.
Moving ahead, Democrats have said they plan to continue to attack Paul as weak on drugs. Not only do they think the issue is a winner for Conway — but they also believe it highlights another running theme from the Democrats: Paul doesn’t understand Kentucky. With his focus on national issues and constant talk about the “Obama-Pelosi-Reid” agenda, Democrats say that Paul is hiding a lack of understanding about the specific issues, like drugs, that are important to the state he wants to represent.
Paul rejected that idea in an interview with WMYT yesterday.
“I’m a physician and a father of three teenage boys, and I’m very concerned about drugs. I think we need to do everything we can to stop drugs,” Paul told the station. “I personally think we’ve been trying the government solution, and maybe there are some good aspects to it. But we’re still failing, and we’re not getting rid of the drug problem.”
The TPM Poll Average shows Paul leading Conway 46.3-41.0.