Is it fair to raise questions about a middle-aged Senate candidate's Christianity based on his behavior and associations in college?
That's the question that jumps to mind with a new TV ad put up by the Democratic nominee for a U.S. Senate seat from Kentucky against his Republican opponent, Dr. Rand Paul.
Conway's ad asks: "Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the Holy Bible a hoax that was banned for mocking Christianity and Christ?"
The ad alludes to Paul's college membership during his days at Baylor University in a group called the NoZe Brotherhood which expressed in its newsletters disparaging views of Christianity. Politico.com reported on that politically inconvenient part of Paul's past.
The ad also alludes to a bizarre episode in which Paul and others in the brotherhood as part of a prank did a mock-kidnapping of a young woman and brought her to a river where they urged her to pray to "Aqua Buddha."
The ad is clearly Conway's attempt to move the needle in a race in which polls give Paul a narrow lead.
It's a risky strategy, however, since such an ad could backfire if it causes enough voters, especially political independents, to recoil at what they see as a low blow below the belt or, better yet, the Bible Belt.
The ad contributed to tension in what appears to be a tight race. The two men debated Sunday night, with Paul demanding an apology and, at the end,
the men refusing to shake each other's hands walking past Conway without offering a handshake or looking at his rival.
As the Associated Press reported:
Paul demanded an apology during a nationally televised debate Sunday night, denouncing the commercial as false and calling himself a "pro-life Christian.'' Conway offered no apology and even repeated the accusations in his ad, which started airing statewide Friday night.
"Those who stoop to the level of attacking a man's religious beliefs to gain higher office, I believe that they should remember that it does not profit a man to gain the world if he loses his soul in the process,'' Paul said, referencing a scripture from the Gospel of Mark.
The candidates wrangled over health care, taxes and entitlements, but those issues were overshadowed by a contentious back-and-forth over the ad.
Conway, the state's attorney general, defended the attacks, saying Paul failed to answer the two "fundamental questions'' raised in the ad.