‘Aqua Buddha’ haunts Conway re-election bid


by Joe Arnold


Posted on May 19, 2011 at 6:11 PM

Updated Thursday, May 19 at 6:15 PM

(WHAS11) -- Kentucky voters who thought that the “Aqua Buddha” controversy died out when Rand Paul was elected to the U.S. Senate should think again.

Attorney General Jack Conway's re-election bid is haunted by his infamous campaign ad from the 2010 race.  Saying he approved the commercial late at night and against his gut, Conway vowed not to repeat the mistake.

In last year's US Senate race, a Conway campaign ad and Jack Conway himself attempted to use the story of an alleged college prank to raise questions about Rand Paul.  It backfired.

“There will always be management components of my campaigns, but if something is coming up and is controversial, we think we need to say something, we think it through for a longer period of time than that was thought through,” Conway said recalling that he pulled the trigger on the commercial at a Paducah Holiday Inn Express about 11:30 p.m. on a Thursday.

During an explosive Senate debate televised live statewide in October, Conway repeated the allegations voiced in the commercial.

“When is it okay to tie up a woman and force her to worship to your god, you call Aqua Buddha?” Conway asked Republican candidate Rand Paul at the WHAS11/University of Louisville debate.

The campaign tactic became a national joke.  Conway was grilled by national television personalities Matt Lauer and Chris Matthews and received bipartisan criticism not only on cable television political shows, but in mainstream news media and entertainment shows.

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late night television program even created an “Aqua Buddha” cartoon character that transformed Paul and Conway into fish-heads.

And now - Aqua Buddha is rearing its head in this year's campaign season - as a swipe against any Democrat's attack.

“They're the same people who brought you Aqua Buddha,” quipped Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams when responding to criticism directed at him.

Conway's Republican opponent in the attorney general's race, Hopkins County Attorney Todd P'Pool uses the Aqua Buddha controversy as a way of introducing Conway.

“You know him, you know him,” P’Pool said to supporters on primary night, “He was the one responsible for making Kentucky endure the infamous Aqua Buddha campaign.“

The audience groaned.

“I can assure you this, Joe, and I can assure the voters of Kentucky, is that I will never again, never again run an ad that doesn't feel right in my gut,” Conway pledged.

“And I don't know what to say other than it didn't feel right in my gut and I will never make that same mistake twice,” Conway continued.

“Kentuckians, they remember enduring the Aqua Buddha campaign,” P’Pool said in an interview, “Jack Conway was the architect of that campaign that obviously will go down in history in political science classes as one of the worst attacks we've seen in a generation.”

P'Pool says it's not just a campaign ad, but there's something about the Aqua Buddha man.

“It showed poor judgment,” P’Pool said, “And I think Jack Conway has demonstrated poor judgment a number of times.”

“That's ultimately my responsibility,” Conway said, “I'm not running from it.  And I won't run from it this fall.   That ad, a lot of my friends have told me that ad was not in keeping with the kind of public servant that I have always been.”

“I recognize that.  I acknowledge it,” Conway continued, “but I think when the voters of Kentucky recognize this isn't a Senate race,  they want their attorney general to focus on three or four key law enforcement issues and to stand up for them.  Big business doesn't need an attorney general and they need someone with our record and I think we're going to win in November.”