No one knows just what will be discussed when Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway meet in the final debate of the Kentucky Senate race tonight at 8 p.m. ET. But Conway’s campaign told me today that if the moderator tonight wants to make the debate all about “Aqua Buddha,” that’s fine with them.
“We’ve said all along that Rand Paul needs to answer basic questions about the actions that he’s taken,” Conway spokesperson John Collins told me on a conference call with reporters this morning. Collins said that questions surrounding Paul’s undergraduate years at Baylor University — including his membership in a banned campus group and the infamous incident where Paul allegedly led a blindfolded and tied-up woman to a creek and asked her to worship “Aqua Buddha” — remain unanswered, and suggested Conway is prepared to let the Baylor stories take over another Senate debate in Kentucky.
“If he would explain it as whatever the case is, I think it would just go away,” Collins said.
A repeat of the Oct. 17 debate, which saw Paul storm off the stage without shaking Conway’s hand after the Democrat kept asking him to explain Aqua Buddha, would probably make for exciting television, but it’s not clear that it would be what either campaign wants at this point. Paul considered dropping out of tonight’s debate on Kentucky’s public television system over concerns that it would be a repeat of the Oct. 17 meeting between the two candidates. And Conway has spent the last few days talking about anything but Aqua Buddha, suggesting that his campaign is ready to move to another topic tonight, too.
Democrats and Republicans have said that Conway’s Aqua Buddha ad and the Democrat’s focus on the topic could hurt him in the end. Polls so far have shown Paul maintaining a lead as the story become national news.
Collins tried to connect the Aqua Buddha story to the Conway campaign’s other storyline — that Paul’s quasi-libertarian past makes him too extreme on budget and economic issues for the Kentucky electorate — when I asked about the debate on this morning’s call.
Collins said Paul’s unwillingness to answer questions about Aqua Buddha suggest he has a problem being “straight with Kentucky voters.”
The Conway call this morning was all about Paul’s past as a national sales tax supporter, a position Paul has distanced himself from on the campaign trail but Conway has turned into a new campaign ad. Collins also repeated Conway’s attacks on Paul’s support for an increased Medicare deductible and suggestion that drug enforcement should be the job of the state rather then federal government.
Meanwhile, Paul and the NRSC has continued hammering away at their base message in Kentucky: namely, that a victory for Conway will be a victory for President Obama, which Republicans say is not the kind of outcome Kentuckians will be looking for when they vote Nov. 3.
If tonight’s debate narrative shifts away from Aqua Buddha, it seems, the candidates will have plenty to talk about. The debate starts at 8 p.m. ET. Look for full coverage from TPM throughout the evening.
The TPM Poll Average shows Paul leading the race 47.1-42.6.