Note: WHAS11 Political Editor Joe Arnold has requested a similar interview with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway.
Ahead of Monday's fifth and final debate in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, Republican candidate Rand Paul says he hopes the race again turns to the "national issues of the day."
In an interview with WHAS11 on Thursday, Paul concurred with the analysis that his campaign benefits when he is able to link Democratic candidate Jack Conway to President Barack Obama, whose presidency and major initiatives are not popular among Kentucky voters, according to many public opinion polls.
"The President is the leader of his party," Paul said, "So, (Conway) has to decide whether he supports President Obama and the agenda or whether he doesn't."
That means when Paul sits down with Conway in the much anticipated Kentucky Educational Television debate Monday night, Paul will want to talk about the Bush tax cuts, the Obama health care plan and Cap and Trade. Paul said that if elected, he would work toward repealing or defunding "Obamacare," and the financial regulatory bill, while adding regulations for government banks such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Conway, if past performance is any guide, will want to talk about Paul during the debate.
In the past week, Paul has been knocked off message by Conway's controversial Aqua Buddha ad -- with Conway using religious images and questions about Paul's college years and faith. Conway's strategy against Paul has been to sow seeds of doubt about both Paul's ideology and Paul, personally. The recent "Aqua Buddha" ad raises those questions in an extreme way.
"I think that backfires a little bit too," Paul said, "I think we're starting to see that many people don't like a candidate who would attack someone's personal religion and I am offended by it. My wife is offended by it. My kids are offended by it.
"Aqua Buddha" is one in a string of questions Conway has raised to ask voters what they really know about the Bowling Green eye doctor and his "extreme" views. Paul contributed to those questions in the wake of his May 18 primary victory with a series of interviews in which he expressed doubts about the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, anxiety over the treatment of British Petroleum by the U.S. Government amid the Gulf oil spill and concern whether blame is too easily assigned to coal mine operators when "accidents happen."
Regardless of how accurately Paul's comments were interpreted, it was a rocky start to the general election campaign and eventually led to the exit of campaign manager David Adams, a former blogger whose connections and aggressiveness introduced Paul, then a conservative gadfly and occasional talk show guest, to the mainstream media.
Since then, Paul has transitioned to a more conventional campaign model, with access to the candidate screened by his campaign. Since polls began to show the race narrowing in the last month, Paul has held more frequent news conferences.
The author of the original GQ magazine article that first introduced the world to "Aqua Buddha," Jason Zengerle, told WHAS11 that he is disappointed how the "Aqua Buddha" college prank has overshadowed the thrust of his story, which is that Paul does not fit the mold of what many people expect in a U.S. Senator. Zengerle, who is also a Senior Editor at the New Republic, called Conway's Aqua Buddha ad "the most despicable" of the year.
Voters, however, do not need to reach back thirty years for evidence that Paul is a non-conformist.
For instance, when the American Board of Ophthalmology required younger but not older eye doctors to be re certified every ten years, Paul balked and instead founded his own ophthalmology accrediting board. He has espoused, at times, the ideals of his libertarian icon father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), which raises eyebrows in old school Republican circles. And, Paul himself admitted that he's not sure what all he has said over the past twenty years.
Paul bristled at the suggestion that he is "unconventional," yet offered that he has "never been afraid to challenge city hall. I've always felt that one man's opinion is important, and that yours isn't any more important but neither is anybody in Washington."
"I respect individuals here in Kentucky to make decisions about their economic lives," he continued, "And I am unafraid to stand up and say, 'Yes, I will challenge authority when authority is wrong, when it's unfair, when its unconstitutional.' I think you want somebody who has that strength of character to stand up against authority."
Despite the ugliness that ensued in the wake of Conway's Aqua Buddha ad, Paul acknowledges that the battle to define the candidates, pro and con, is "what campaigns are about." Paul believes his priorities sound "mainstream and reasonable."
"Balanced budget amendment, term limits, read the bills before we act on them, the bills should be constitutional.... These are very much a reform agenda, that government's grown too large and we're not obeying our own rules," Paul said.
"And then the other side will try to characterize it as something else. That's part of this gamesmanship of politics. But I think if enough people hear our message, then I think we win overwhelmingly."
Paul wants to rein in regulatory agencies that he says are usurping Congressional authority, establish a test to see what government departments are even worth keeping, and generally -- upset the apple cart.
"I'm not going to be part of the system," Paul continued, "I think the system is broken. People say 'You'll never pass term limits?' Watch me do it."
"People are tired of the career politicians who seem to go to Washington to further their careers, but they lose track of what's best for the country. And that's why we have people who go to Washington and say, 'I'll be Santa Claus, what do you want? I'll bring you home whatever I can bring you home.'"
"But, I'll ask the hard questions. How do you pay for it? And, is this debt we're incurring by always being Santa Claus is this debt we're incurring what's creating the recession, what's creating the joblessness, and will it make our country worse not better?"
In past interviews, Paul has said he would apply a test to federal departments and agencies to determine whether they should be downsized, reassigned or eliminated. WAS11 asked Paul if he would even have the power to impose such a test. He says he would seek the process as soon as he takes office.
"I see it even bigger than the whole thing," Paul responded, "I think the whole system is broken, so I see it as - not just "a" regulatory agency - I see that regulatory agencies are writing laws without the authority of Congress. I see that as a big momentous issue of our times. Government's grown so big that even the people we take the time to do all this campaigning elect, then don't seem to have control over the bureaucracies. So I want to say to the EPA or to OSHA or to any of these regulatory agencies, you can't just create new rules without coming back to Congress and voting on it."
"I do want to embrace big ideas. Big ideas and big issues. Big reforms rather than saying this particular thing is right or wrong. There's a lot wrong, that's systemically wrong and it's why government is out of control and growing bigger and bigger and it needs to be restrained."
Paul rejects that he is tilting at windmills.
"People say 'You'll never pass term limits?' Watch me do it."
Asked if such fundamental reforms would need to be directed by the White House, rather than a U.S. Senator's office, Paul agreed.
"We might have to find somebody from the Tea Party who runs on the message of term limits and says 'I will run on this,' and there's a national mandate and we finally get it."
But Paul is not content to wait for a new administration to revolutionize Washington.
"I'm not up there if I'm elected to tinker with things," he said, "I'm up there to say, 'Look our system is broken, the deficit is consuming our economy. We have to do things and we have to fix things.' But I also don't want to do the argument of partisanship. I really don't see things in terms of Republican or Democrat. And you won't have me up there calling people out saying things about them personally or privately."
"I won't compromise my principles. But I will say where will we have common ground that we can both say, 'Well, you know what? This is broken. How do we get together and fix it?"
Though Paul is waging a campaign based on a personal ideology and philosophy, the Senate election will be decided by voters impatient with the recession and anxious about their own futures.
What does Paul say to those voters? What would he do immediately, within the first six months of taking office?
"We have to get government out of the way," Paul says, explaining that an immediate change is possible if Americans change their mindset that government is the answer.
"We need to believe in ourselves again. So, I think if we do believe in ourselves, I think we can be out of the recession like this. If we get government out of the way."
"We have to get taxes that will compete with foreign countries. You have to have a regulatory environment that competes with it.
"Right now we're going the opposite way through Obamacare and the banking regulation bill. We have two 2500 page bills that are adding thousands of regulations on business. Businesses can't borrow money right now because we're making it harder for them to borrow money.... exactly the wrong thing to do."
Saying that the United States is repeating mistakes made in the middle of the Great Depression, Paul said that banking rules have been made more stringent, even for the banks that were not part of the financial crisis.
"President Obama is leading us down the road to a much more severe recession," Paul said.
Paul says if spending can be brought under control, he wants across the board tax cuts, "like Reagan did."
But what about what former President Bill Clinton did? Democrats are quick to point out that Clinton left behind budget surpluses and that the economy tanked under President George W. Bush.
"I would say there is bipartisan blame to go around for the debt and bipartisan blame to go around for the recession," Paul maintained, "The recession was primarily led by a housing bubble that burst. The bad policy that got there, many Republicans and many Democrats voted to give an increased credit line to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back in 2003. Both parties voted for that largely. So, really I think both parties deserve some of the blame."
Paul, however, says the issue in this election is not blame but determining how to best move the country forward.
"Capitalism is an amazing economic system . Let's unleash capitalism . It's created so much wealth it's beyond imagination what capitalism has done for our country. Let's believe in it and let's get government out of the way."