- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2010

Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul pushed back Thursday against what he called a “desperate” attempt to undermine his campaign by branding him a racist eager to turn back civil rights laws.

Mr. Paul, an eye surgeon, faced political controversy just days after a stunning win in the Kentucky Republican primary over media interviews he gave questioning portions of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act dealing with racial discrimination and the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.

“I abhor racial discrimination and … unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Mr. Paul said in a letter to voters. He said later in an interview on CNN that he would have voted for the 1964 bill.

But Democratic officials hammered Mr. Paul throughout the day over his comments, with some saying it provided a major opening for underdog Democratic challenger Jack Conway, the Kentucky attorney general, in this fall’s race.

In another race, the GOP dodged a bullet as Utah Sen. Robert F. Bennett, a Republican, said he would not seek a fourth term through a write-in candidacy, two weeks after state GOP leaders failed to endorse his re-election bid. There had been some speculation that Mr. Bennett might consider an independent campaign.

Though Mr. Paul attempted to clarify his position and perhaps end the controversy, he was unapologetic about saying the federal government has overstepped its limits, specifically with its recent decision to force Americans to buy health insurance.

“The federal government has far overreached in its power grabs,” said Mr. Paul, the son of Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican.

“Tea party” activists, who strongly backed Mr. Paul, 47, in the GOP primary, said Thursday they were not surprised at the early negative attacks.

“They do the same thing every time,” said Shelby Blakely, executive director of the New Patriot Journal. “This week, it’s Rand Paul. They tried to do it to Sarah Palin when they were afraid of her.”

A Rasmussen Reports poll released this week gave Mr. Paul 59 percent of the vote, compared to 34 percent for Mr. Conway.

Mr. Paul routed Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the favorite of the Kentucky GOP establishment, on Tuesday. Still, Democratic political strategists say the GOP nominee will have to adjust his views for the general election in a state where registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans.

Ben Tulchin of San Francisco-based Tulchin Research said Mr. Paul’s comments on National Public Radio and MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” reveal views that can be highlighted by Mr. Conway in the fall campaign.

“Traditionally, whether candidates tack left or right in the primary, they have to tack to the middle to be successful in a general election,” he said.

In an extended interview, Ms. Maddow - using the example of segregated lunch counters - pressed Mr. Paul about whether the government had the authority to tell private merchants they could not discriminate by race. Mr. Paul has said repeatedly he found racial discrimination abhorrent, but said the question of coercing private business owners was a more difficult one for him.

Mr. Bennett, 76, in a brief press conference at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill, condemned political outsiders for creating a “toxic” atmosphere in the Senate primary in Utah.

Tea party members in Utah and conservatives activists nationwide rallied against his candidacy, citing his vote in support of the Wall Street bank bailout and his backing for a bipartisan health care reform proposal as an alternative to President Obama’s overhaul package.

Mr. Bennett noted Thursday that he still had the support of national Republicans and that internal polls show he would be “just fine” in a re-election campaign. However, re-entering the race would be expensive and would prolong the toll on voters for months and perhaps years, Mr. Bennett said.

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