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GOP debate a doozy in Paducah

by Joe Arnold


Posted on February 15, 2010 at 6:40 AM

Updated Monday, Feb 15 at 10:38 AM

Rivals for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Kentucky, Trey Grayson and Rand Paul both have said they will support the eventual nominee of the GOP, but it appears at least one of them will have to do it begrudgingly.

A local site in Paducah has some details, and thanks to the account provided by Roger Alford of the Associated Press, we know that at a Saturday debate in Paducah, Grayson accused Paul of taking the "Potomac two-step" on the abortion issue, and Paul again accused Grayson of distortions.

"I call today for the lies to stop," Paul told a crowd of more than 200 at a Paducah high school.

Meanwhile, Alford's story also acknowledges that Todd County businessman Bill Johnson may well be a factor in the primary.  I have blogged about Johnson's candidacy several times, but until now he has not appeared to have gained much traction among likely primary voters (a "poll" sent to me by the Johnson campaign that showed him very competitive in the race was never verified after I asked for information about how it was conducted).

Yet, Johnson, a veteran and self-described Reagan Republican may have gained the most in the Paducah debate, as he repeated his conservative positions and watched Paul and Grayson swipe at each other. 

In the debate, the three major candidates voiced similar views on most issues, but they were divided on term limits for congressmen. Paul and Johnson favor term limits. Grayson said he does not, for fear it would remove strong leaders like U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority floor leader.

In the debate, Johnson, the clear crowd favorite, stood between the other two candidates and mostly stayed clear of the testy exchanges between Grayson and Paul. Johnson, who describes himself as a "Ronald Reagan Republican" and who talked boldly about "God-given rights," was often interrupted by applause from the crowd.

"I appeal to those voters who support Dr. Paul and those who support Trey Grayson," Johnson said afterward. "The key to winning in November is bringing together those two groups, and I'm the only candidate who can do that."

On a sidewalk outside the school, David Holman of Owenton held a Bill Johnson placard. Never mind that Holman is a Democrat.

"It's his honesty," Holman said, explaining why he was drawn to Johnson's candidacy. "He doesn't change. He gives the same answers every time, whether you like it or not."

Another Republican who has filed for the office, 85 year old Gurley Martin of Owensboro was not invited to participate.

Sheriff's deputies removed one of the other candidates, Gurley Martin, 85, of Owensboro, when he demanded to be allowed to take part in the debate. The World War II veteran left the auditorium with a deputy on each arm, delaying the debate only momentarily.

Certainly, more fireworks are ahead.  And here most pundits thought the Democrats were going to supply the most interesting Senate primary.