A confession: When Kentucky's Democratic Senate nominee Jack Conway put up his controversial "Aqua Buddha" ad, alluding to the GQ report that an undergraduate Rand Paul had "kidnapped" a woman and forced her to pray to what Conway grandiosely called "a false idol"--well, I didn't think it was a very big deal. I don't share the outrage that other folks do. The ad struck me as weird and ineffective and an indicator that Conway was probably through. Why put up something so off-topic if not as a Hail Mary? I'm still not convinced it doesn't hurt him.
The ad got a lot of attention in the blogosphere mainly as a kind of liberal Rorsach test: some loved its aggressiveness, others hated that it went after Paul's religiosity (or implied lack thereof). But I had no idea, until I arrived in Kentucky, what a big deal it is here. The controversy is absolutely dominating local coverage of the race: as a news story on all the local channels, in the newspapers, and of course on television as the ad itself (and Paul's rebuttal that Conway is "bearing false witness") is in constant rotation. This is after it originally flared up as a serious issue over the summer.
I spent the morning in Louisville talking to some local politicos (mainly Republicans), who think Paul is going to pull it out, but agree that the race is still close and that Paul isn't doing a good job of handling "Aqua Buddha." For one thing, it's clearly gotten under his skin, and his campaign has gotten totally off message: He's stopped talking about Obama (which is every Kentucky Republican's most effective cudgel). What's more, he's guaranteed that the story will drag on for at least a few more days because at the end of the first candidate debate, Paul dramatically announced that he would not shake hands with Conway because of the ad and would not participate in the next debate, scheduled for Monday. Complicating matters for Paul is that he won't deny the story. It's certainly his right to stand on principle and refuse to discuss a matter he says is beneath his dignity, but in a raw political sense that's keeping the story going.