Ky. Race For Sen. Bunning's Seat Heats Up

Rand Paul and Trey Grayson are going head-to-head to secure the Republican Party's nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Jim Bunning (R). Bunning has announced his retirement. Paul and Grayson join NPR's Ken Rudin to talk Ky. campaign politics.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The so-called 10th justice gets the ninth, the Tea Party bags Bob Bennett, and John McCain flip-flops on the fence. It's Wednesday and time for a dang edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR Political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk politics. A 14-term House incumbent loses a Democratic primary in West Virginia, Jimmy Carter's grandson is now State Senator Jason Carter in Georgia, the SEIU elects a new president, even more fallout from Bondagegate, the ad war escalates in Pennsylvania. That primary comes up next week, along with Arkansas, Oregon and Kentucky.

We'll talk with Bluegrass Staters Rand Paul and Trey Grayson, the big rivals for the Republican Senate nomination. Later this hour, privacy protests hit Facebook, but first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A, as he does every Wednesday. As usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Okay, exciting times coming up, big primaries next week, and one of the big primaries, of course, is Arlen Specter. He is -of course, he switched parties last year. I think he was a Republican, although I'm not...

CONAN: Yeah, he was originally a Democrat.

RUDIN: Yes, that's true, and not many Republicans think of him as a Republican.

CONAN: But nevertheless.

RUDIN: But a lot of Democrats think of him as a Republican. Anyway, he's in danger of losing his primary next week. Name the last two senators who switched parties while they were in office and who then lost the next primary.

CONAN: So if you think you know the last two senators to switch parties while in office and then lose in the next primary, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And of course, the winner gets a fabulous, no-prize T-shirt, beautifully designed.

RUDIN: Incredible.

CONAN: Incredible. So that's we'll wait to get calls in, but obviously the big political news of the week is the upcoming battle over the Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

RUDIN: Right, and of course, what the Republicans will do now, when she was confirmed as solicitor general last year, I guess March, January or March of 2009, early March of 2009, 31 Republicans voted against her, including Arlen Specter, which is very interesting. But seven Republicans voted for her, like Tom Coburn, Jon Kyl, Orrin Hatch, conservative Republicans. The question is whether they decide to mount any kind of effort to defeat her.

She is obviously not the liberal that President Obama could have nominated, but of course, if you talk to many conservatives, her lack of paper trail shows that she's hiding a left-wing philosophy.

CONAN: And interesting, 31 votes was the exact number of votes that were cast by Republicans against Sonia Sotomayor, the previous nominee. But in any case, there's complaints that Elena Kagan lacks a record, that she's not made definitive statements on one, but at the news conference on Monday, President Obama made it clear that she has taken a firm position on one highly divisive issue.

President BARACK OBAMA: And this appreciation for diverse views may also come in handy as a die-hard Mets fan, serving alongside her new colleague-to-be, Yankees fan Justice Sotomayor, who I believe has ordered a pin-stripe robe for the occasion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And that's about the most divisive issue that she's going to be speaking on between now and in the hearings.

RUDIN: Well, we learned from Robert Bork that the more you tell senators about your judicial philosophy, the bigger trouble you can get into. And it's been a pattern for the most part since Bork that you say as little about your philosophy, certainly about abortion, things like that, issues that could come up, certainly will come up in the confirmation hearing.

But it's interesting. You know, Arlen Specter, who voted against her for solicitor general last year, said the reason he voted against her, I mean, of course, it's very possible that he did it to curry favor with because he was still a Republican back then, but at the same time, he said he voted against her because she didn't give that much sufficient information about what her philosophy was during the confirmation hearings.

But I suspect that when we have the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan, she'll be equally close-mouthed.

CONAN: Senator Specter still a member of the Judiciary Committee, no longer the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. In any case, actual votes cast yesterday in West Virginia, where the big news was the defeat of Congressman Alan Mollohan.

RUDIN: Right. He's been in Congress 28 years. He succeeded his father, Robert Mollohan, in 1982, who was first elected, or the last time he was elected was in '68. So for the last 42 years, we had a Mollohan in the 1st Congressional District in West Virginia.

But I know there's a lot of anti-incumbent, anti-Washington feeling out there, but there's several reasons for why Mollohan went down. One, he's always been involved in some kind of ethics problems. He's always been accused of steering earmarks towards businesses that are run by his allies or his friends. So that was always a question about him, even though he never suffered at the ballot box. He always won overwhelmingly re-elections.

But at the same time, he also voted for the health care bill, and the National Right to Life Party, which has long supported Alan Mollohan Mollohan is a pro-life Democrat switched their support to Mike Oliverio, who defeated him, who defeated Mollohan yesterday because of the vote on health care.

CONAN: And he also campaigned that he was corrupt and out of touch.

RUDIN: That's exactly right.

CONAN: In any case, the big news last week, couldn't get it on last week's program, not there in time, but over the weekend, a caucus in Utah denied a place on the ballot to Bob Bennett, the conservative Republican from Utah who had this to say afterwards.

Senator BOB BENNETT (Republican, Utah): The political atmosphere obviously has been toxic, and it's very clear that some of the votes that I have cast have added to the toxic environment.

CONAN: And it is both Tea Partiers and, indeed, the Club for Growth that is claiming the scalp of Senator Bob Bennett.

RUDIN: Right, and it was a big scalp, and now, of course, as Bob Bennett alluded to, there were some votes that did cast him in bad favor with some conservatives, like the vote for the TARP program in 2008.

Now, a lot of Republicans voted for that, including Orrin Hatch. Orrin Hatch could be in trouble in 2012, but Bob Bennett look, the conservatives in it's very easy for us in Washington to say that Bob Bennett is a sufficiently conservative kind of guy, and there's no reason why he should have been voted out by Republicans at the state convention last weekend.

But there's conservatives in Utah who said that's not enough, that the anger is real, the anger against the Obama administration is real, and Bob Bennett is kind of quiet, a colorless conservative, even though his voting record is pretty sufficient, but we want more from that, more of that from our elected officials, and Bob Bennett was not sufficiently conservative.

So he only finished third, a weak third, and you needed 40 percent of the Republican support to advance to even get into the primary, which is June 22nd. So his career is over.

Now, he is discussing the possibility of running as a write-in candidate. In the history of the Senate, only one senator was ever elected...

CONAN: Save that. Save that. We're going to need it for a trivia question.

RUDIN: Everybody will know the answer to that because it's easy to look up, and that was Strom Thurmond in 1954, was the only guy who has ever been elected as a write-in candidate in the Senate. Bob Bennett is talking about it. I suspect he does not run as a write-in.

CONAN: Well, speaking of the trivia question, we have some people on the line who think they know the correct, and again...

RUDIN: Strom Thurmond.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It is the last two members of the United States Senate who switched party while in office and then were defeated for their party's nomination in the primary that followed, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Julia(ph), Julia with us from Palo Alto.

JULIA (Caller): Yes, hello, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

JULIA: Good, good. I think the answer is the two answers, I should say, is Joe Lieberman, Connecticut, and Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island.

RUDIN: Well, you're wrong on both, and I'll explain why you're wrong on both. Joe Lieberman didn't switch parties until after he lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut in 2006. Lincoln Chafee was defeated for re-election in 2006. He was a Republican from Rhode Island and then became an independent after he was out of the Senate. In fact, he is running for governor this year of Rhode Island as an independent candidate. But both switched parties after their defeats.

JULIA: Oh dear, so I had my timing off.

CONAN: Well, you get the virtual Political Junkie T-shirt.

JULIA: Yes, yes, thank you very much. Better luck next time. By the way, I really like the show, and thank you very much for doing this. Both you guys are terrific.

CONAN: Thank you.

RUDIN: Thank you.

CONAN: Thank you very much. Let's go next to this is Albert(ph), Albert with us from Lake Havasu in Arizona.

ALBERT (Caller): Hi, I think I'm already toast. I have Lieberman, but I thought the other dude was George Campbell(ph). I remember - I'm from Colorado originally, and I remember he switched.

CONAN: Ah, Ben. He did switch parties, but I think he won re-election.

RUDIN: He did win re-election, and he retired undefeated, Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Of course, they had reservations about him switching parties. That's a bad joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: But anyway, yes, but he was never defeated in a primary.

ALBERT: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: All right, thanks, Albert. Let's see if we can go next to let's go to Bob, Bob with us from Rochester, Minnesota.

BOB (Caller): Hi, this is Bob Sixta(ph) again. And I believe the how are you guys?

CONAN: We're still good.

BOB: I believe the answer is Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

RUDIN: Well, Norm Coleman did switch parties when he was mayor of what's that big city in I think it's called St. Paul.

CONAN: St. Paul.

RUDIN: Yes, but he was elected to the Senate as a Republican and defeated for re-election as a Republican but never lost a primary.

BOB: Okay, all right. I stand corrected, then, thanks.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much for the call, Bob. Let's go next to whoops, I hung up on somebody. I apologize for that.

RUDIN: It was the correct answer, too.

CONAN: No, I don't think it was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But anyway, Brandon(ph), Brandon with us from Madisonville in Kentucky.

BRANDON (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi, Brandon, go ahead.

BRANDON: Hey, I was going to have to say James Jeffords of Vermont and Robert Smith of New Hampshire.

RUDIN: Well, you have one of them correct. Robert Smith is correct. In 1999, he was a Republican, switched to an independent, then went back to being a Republican and then got beat by John Sununu in the Republican primary.

But Jim Jeffords is the wrong answer because Jim Jeffords, while he did switch parties, he was a Republican who became an independent, he retired for the next election, never was defeated in the primary.

So we do have Robert Smith, Bob Smith of New Hampshire. We need the second senator who switched parties and was defeated in the primary.

CONAN: Brandon, I'm going to put you...

BRANDON: (Unintelligible) third answer, can we?

CONAN: You can have one more shot. All right, another bite at the apple.

BRANDON: I was going to say Ben Campbell of Colorado.

CONAN: No, we've already ruled him out, but again a nice try, Brandon. Thanks very much for the...

RUDIN: We could send him a T-shirt with one sleeve maybe.

CONAN: One sleeve.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: All right, or maybe just a back. Andy's(ph) on the line, Andy calling from Denver.

ANDY (Caller): Yeah, how about Harry Byrd of Virginia?

RUDIN: Well, Harry Byrd became an independent from a Democrat, but he was never defeated, let alone in the primary. He retired in 1976, but he never lost a primary or a general election.

ANDY: Okay, thanks.

CONAN: All right, thanks. All right, we're going to have to put this on hold because I really want to play this cut of tape. This is an ad from John McCain running for re-election with a big problem on his right wing in Arizona. This is him down at the border.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder.

Unidentified Man: We're outmanned. Of all the illegals in America, more than half come through Arizona.

Sen. McCAIN: Have we got the right plan?

Unidentified Man: Plan's perfect. You bring troops state, county and local law enforcement together.

Sen. McCAIN: And complete the dang fence.

Unidentified Man: It'll work this time. Senator, you're one of us.

CONAN: You're one of us, Senator, complete the dang fence. This is the senator who, when he was running for office, told Latinos, hey, fences aren't the answer.

RUDIN: Absolutely right, and you see him in this forced conversation with a sheriff, an actual sheriff, and as you say, John McCain has always talked about citizenship for illegal people here illegally, and now with a conservative challenger, he's focusing on border enforcement.

CONAN: All right, we've run out of time on our trivia question. So what's the other half of the answer?

RUDIN: Robert La Follette of Wisconsin in 1946 was a Republican, progressive, then a Republican. He was defeated by a guy named Joe McCarthy in the 1946 primary.

CONAN: And I can prove it. I have this list right here in my hand. Political Junkie Ken Rudin will stay with us. Kentucky, call us. We're having your two Republican senatorial candidates next. This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

It's Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is here, NPR's political editor and obsessive campaign button collector. Case in point: You can take a look at the buttons for both of our next guests, the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, on his blog. Just go to npr.org/junkie. You can find a link there to his podcast, It's All Politics, and of course the ScuttleButton puzzle. You love the ScuttleButton puzzle?

Anyway, now to Kentucky. Voters there go to the polls on Tuesday to pick the Republican and Democratic candidates for the Senate seat currently held by Jim Bunning, who's retiring.

In the Democratic primary, Attorney General Jack Conway faces Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo. In the Republican primary, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson goes head to head with ophthalmologist Rand Paul. We'll speak with each of the Republican candidates in just a moment.

But Kentucky Republicans, we want to hear from you. What question do you have for Trey Grayson and Rand Paul? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now by phone from Litchfield, Kentucky, is Trey Grayson, Kentucky's secretary of state, and it's good to have you with us here(ph).

Mr. TREY GRAYSON (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Kentucky): Hey, great to be here. And actually, what's funny, Litchfield is in Grayson County.

CONAN: Is it? Is it named after your family?

Mr. GRAYSON: I don't maybe somehow along the way. I like to claim it when I'm here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, it's probably a wise thing to do while you're there.

Mr. GRAYSON: Yeah, it probably is. My family's been here for a while, and I think there is some relation, but it's a it's a Revolutionary War general is who...

CONAN: It's who it's named after?

Mr. GRAYSON: Yeah, yeah.

CONAN: Well, what we read in the newspapers, if it's correct, is that you are the hand-picked candidate of Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the United States Senate, of course the senator from Kentucky.

Mr. GRAYSON: Well, I don't know if I'm a hand-picked candidate. I'm certainly I've appreciated Senator McConnell's help in this race and endorsement that he issued last week. But you know, I think I've been picked by a lot of Kentucky Republicans because of my strong record as secretary of state and my the likelihood of my ability to get things done in Washington. And so I'm real proud of that support we're getting from all across Kentucky.

CONAN: What would you say is the biggest difference between you and your principal opponent, Rand Paul?

Mr. GRAYSON: I think the biggest difference is that I've actually got a record of accomplishing a lot of the things that we need to focus on in Washington. We and since I've became secretary of state, we've actually slashed spending by over 15 percent.

We're spending 15 percent less, but we're actually doing more for the citizens of Kentucky, and that kind of efficient government is something that voters all across Kentucky are looking for in this time where we need to get our fiscal house in order, but we still need to get things done at the federal level.

But that record is something that distinguishes me from, you know, candidates who say good things on the campaign trail but aren't able to accomplish it as they get into office.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Mr. Secretary of State, a lot of times in the past, a political record would be advantageous, especially against somebody like Rand Paul, who had never run for office before. But as we saw in Utah with Robert Bennett, as we've seen around the country, there was an anti-Washington, anti-incumbent feeling out there, and even though you're not the incumbent senator, you are backed by Mitch McConnell and perhaps what they call the establishment, and it looks like there's an anti-establishment vote out there, which helped Rand Paul.

Mr. GRAYSON: Well, you know, in theory there could be some parallels. As you say, you know, I have not been in Washington, never worked there, you know, don't have a father who's been there for 20 years in Congress.

But I think that my record is important to voters. I mean, it's something that you know, people really are looking for solutions. They're sick and tired of rhetoric, and you know, I'm not the incumbent senator, as you said, and I think that my record is going to make a big difference and help us to overcome the money that Rand has been able to raise around the country from his dad's libertarian followers, as well as all the media connections that have helped him develop, helped him during his campaign.

CONAN: Some of your ads have said Rand Paul has strange ideas. Which ones in particular are you talking about?

Mr. GRAYSON: Well, a couple that most Kentuckians, when they hear about it, they just can't believe - one is that he opposes the Patriot Act. This is something that's disrupted over 20 terrorists acts since it's been passed and was even renewed and supported by a majority of the Congress that's currently composed and signed by President Obama, and is part of the Republican Party platform.

And another one is, you know, his comment recently that Iran having a single nuclear weapon is not a threat to our national security. You know, these kinds of views, especially in an era of national security, are really concerning to Kentucky Republican voters, or Kentuckians for that matter, not just Republicans. I think most Democrats in Kentucky would support me on those views.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. This is Thomas, Thomas with us from Owensboro in Kentucky.

THOMAS (Caller): Yes, my question is for Mr. Grayson. I noticed on your TV ads, you criticize Rand Paul for saying he wants to raise the age limit to 70 years old on Social Security and Medicare benefits. If we don't do something like that, what's your answer to fixing the problem?

CONAN: The debt problem is presumably what he's talking about. Secretary Grayson?

Mr. GRAYSON: Sure, yeah, thanks for the question, Thomas, and I'll be in Owensboro I think on Monday on this tour. I hope you can come out and we can talk in person.

But what the ad criticized, Dr. Paul's position, where he said he would have voted against the Medicare bill if it were introduced if he'd been in Congress back in the '60s, and he did raise some he did state that he wanted to increase the Social Security retirement age.

I think we need to do with the debt, as you put the question, is that our federal deficit, we need to focus first on discretionary spending and do some spending freezes and even go beyond that on non-defense discretionary spending.

You know, with the stimulus, we've increased spending by an extraordinary amount over the last couple years, and we need to go back to those pre-stimulus levels. If we do that, then I think that'll help give our creditors, our rating agencies, and just small business owners the confidence that we're taking this problem pretty seriously and we're going to address is before it gets out of hand.

So those are the kinds of steps that I'd like to see, to get the spending under control, get the deficit under control and get this economy moving again.

CONAN: Thomas, thanks very much for the phone call.

THOMAS: Thank you.

CONAN: Email question from Mark: What did Dr. James Dobson mean when he said he changed his endorsement to Rand Paul because you deceived him?

Mr. GRAYSON: I have no idea what Dr. Dobson meant. We received his endorsement, he saw my views on life and other issues that matter to him and saw Dr. Paul's views, which are not quite as strong as mine on that issue. For example, he supports the morning-after pill in certain situations.

And then somehow he announced that he changed his position on that. You know, we were very straightforward in giving him all the facts, and he said he originally considered the facts. So I think you'll have to ask Dr. Dobson.

I know last night Fox News tried to ask him and he walked away from the camera, and so I'm not sure what went on there, but I'm very proud of the state right-to-life endorsement and the folks all across Kentucky for whom these issues matter are flocking to our campaign.

CONAN: Less than a week to go - how would you characterize the tone of the campaign? And also the latest polls show you trailing your opponent.

Mr. GRAYSON: Well, you know, what we've been doing with our TV and radio ads is focusing on making the case to the voters, talking about my concern for what's going on in Washington and being fed up with the Obama agenda and talking about focusing on spending and my track record.

We've been very positive. What's interesting is they've gotten really negative over the last couple of weeks with their ads. They even sent a letter out to a bunch of Kentucky voters, taking aim at my wife and daughters on a local issue, and I think that's a sign of a candidate that may have peaked too soon, when you're going after the opponent's wife and family.

But we feel great. We've got this great tour all across the state. We've had good crowds. We're seeing a lot of support, and we're going to win this, and the only polls that matter are the ones on election day, and frankly, the polls that are done by the most reputable pollsters show this to be a dead heat.

And in Kentucky, we like basketball analogies. So I call this a jump ball, and I was always pretty good. I'm 6'5". I was always pretty good at getting the tip, and I plan on doing it on election day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Yeah, Bill Bradley always used to say that Democratic primaries (unintelligible) should be decided by jump shots from the top of the key.

Mr. GRAYSON: Well, I wasn't a good jump-shooter from the top of the key, but I'd gladly like to do a post-up move.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right. Trey Grayson, thanks very much for your time today. Good luck to you.

Mr. GRAYSON: You're welcome. Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Trey Grayson, Kentucky's secretary of state, candidate for the Republican Senate nomination. Again, the primary is on Tuesday. His principal rival will be Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist in Kentucky. Dr. Paul joins us now by phone from his office in Bowling Green. And Rand Paul, good to have you with us today on TALK OF THE NATION.

Dr. RAND PAUL (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Kentucky): Glad to be with you.

CONAN: And obviously a lot of people will recognize your last name.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Your father is Ron Paul, the former Libertarian Party candidate for president of the United States, ran last time for the Republican nomination for president.

Dr. PAUL: Right.

CONAN: Are your ideas similar to his?

Dr. PAUL: You know, my father's always been elected as a Republican. He's been elected 10 or 12 times as a Republican from Texas, and he's a believer in limited constitutional government, meaning that government should be restrained by the Constitution and operate under the enumerated powers that were given to the federal government, and in that we are definitely in agreement.

CONAN: And what would you say is the principal difference between you and your opponent?

Dr. PAUL: Between myself and my opponent? Well, you know, I've always been a Republican. My opponent started out as a Democrat and Bill Clinton supporter back when we were all Republicans. Back since the '70s I've been going to Republican conventions.

In fact, I was there in 1976 as a kid, when my family supported Reagan over Ford. So we've always been not only Republicans but part of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, whereas he's joined the Republicans recently and we welcome him, but we just wonder whether or not it's for the right reasons, whether or not he's actually changed his ideology or if he's just seen the writing on the wall that it's easier to win as a Republican.

CONAN: You've also described yourself as a member of the Tea Party before there was a Tea Party, and obviously that's a phrase that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What does it mean to you?

Dr. PAUL: Well, you know, I've been involved with the tax reform movement in our state for about 15 years. I founded a group called Kentucky Taxpayers United, and we worked hard to get legislators to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. We also did a rating system where we published a taxpayer scorecard for the state legislature. So I've been involved with the tax reform movement for a long time. We've talked about a lot of issues that the Tea Party agrees with - term limits, a balanced budget amendment, reining in earmarks, having them read the bills before they pass them. These are a lot of things that resonate in the Tea Party movement. I also spoke at Faneuil Hall in Boston in 2007 at the Boston Tea Party reenactment, and that may well have been the first Tea Party in America.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation. And we'll go to Rudy, and Rudy is with us from Burlington, Kentucky.

RUDY (Caller): Yes, sir, thank you for having me on. I'm a Big Three refugee. I've been unemployed in Kentucky for a little over a year. Recently, our senator worked to hold up an extension to unemployment benefits. And I was wondering if you had been in that position, what would you have done and what you're going to do to rebuild industry in this country?

CONAN: Rudy, by Big Three you're a former autoworker, is what you're saying?

RUDY: Yes, sir.

CONAN: All right. Just wanted to clarify that. Rand Paul?

Dr. PAUL: Well, I was proud of Senator Bunning for what he did, and I think it was actually misinterpreted. He didnt actually hold up the benefits. What he said was, let's take the money out of existing pool of money that had already been allocated for the stimulus money. Because they had passed about three weeks beforehand something called pay-as-you-go, which meant they had agreed not to add to the deficit. But immediately, within three weeks, they broke their own rules twice. And this is why - because of this lack of backbone - that our deficit is exploding, and so I think Senator Bunning did the right thing. And had I been there, I would have stood right up there with him and explained it to the American people, that our deficit is what's consuming this nation and it's also what's destroying jobs. If we want to create jobs, we need to shrink the pool of money that we give to the government and increase the pool of money that's left with private business and private individuals.

CONAN: And so unemployment benefits you would have opposed - not only you supported Senator Bunning's position, but then opposed the unemployment benefits extension that was approved later.

Dr. PAUL: No, what I would have said is that - take the money. If you're going to extend unemployment benefits, take the money from existing money...

CONAN: But if that was not...

Dr. PAUL: ...not add to the debt.

CONAN: But if that was not the option offered, would you have voted against it?

Dr. PAUL: I think that was the option that was offered by Bunning - was to...

CONAN: But that was not the vote that was on the Senate floor.

Dr. PAUL: Excuse me?

CONAN: That was not the vote that was on the Senate floor. That was his position, but it was not the vote on the floor.

Dr. PAUL: Right. That was the vote that he was promised, and then in the end the vote ended up being different than that. But the vote I would have held out for and supported would be to take the money from existing funds.

CONAN: I'm just trying to get you to say what - how you would have voted on the actual vote. Would you have voted to extend the unemployment benefits as it stood on the floor or oppose them?

Dr. PAUL: Right. Well, I think it's an important discussion as to how long we should have unemployment benefits. The benefits, as I understand it, were to extend them beyond two years?

CONAN: Yes, I think that's right.

Dr. PAUL: Right. And the average unemployment benefits in Europe, I think, are actually about a year. So there is an argument to be made for that two years may be an excessively long time. I think that if you want to get out of a recession, what you have to do is you have to find a bottom to the market. So for example, in the housing market, we have to find a bottom to housing. But also in the employment market, in order to find a job and to get people back working, unfortunately what has to happen a lot of times is you have to accept jobs at lower wages...

CONAN: And I hear your philosophy there, Dr. Paul.

Dr. PAUL: Right. What I'm saying...

CONAN: Is that a no?

Dr. PAUL: What I'm saying is extending the unemployment benefits, there has to be a limit to what that is. And that's a discussion we have to have, is what is the limit? Do we want to have five years of unemployment benefits or 10 years, or do we want people permanently on welfare from generation to generation? So the argument is that, yes, you do have to have limits. Exactly what the limits are has to be decided in every individual instance. And I think, really, we've erred on having them too long rather than too short.

CONAN: We're talking with Dr. Rand Paul, a candidate for the Republican senatorial nomination in Kentucky. Youre listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Ken?

RUDIN: Dr. Paul, obviously the view among Republicans about Mitch McConnell in Washington is that if nothing else he has run a very disciplined caucus. He keeps his troops, keeps his Republican senators in line. Obviously you have a different view of Mitch McConnell in Kentucky because he supports your opponent. Would you - if you're elected to the Senate, would you back Mitch McConnell for another term as Republican leader?

Dr. PAUL: Well, according to Senator McConnell in all news reports I've seen on this, there really hasnt been any contest. It's been unanimous the last two times around. So I find it hard to believe that I would be making any other vote if there's no other choice.

RUDIN: Do you think you can get along with him in the Republican caucus?

Dr. PAUL: Yeah. In fact, I've made overtures and extended an olive branch to him. I purposely called three or four months ago and asked for a meeting with him when it looked like we were going to begin to run away with this race, and we plan on winning. And when we do, we will work together. We have agreed to appear at a unity rally with him on May 22nd. And so I think in many ways there are many things we do agree with. I've made great pains and gone around the state to emphasize our areas of agreement. On McCain-Feingold, he fought for 10 years against it, not only in Congress but in the courts. And then I always agreed with him, that I think McCain-Feingold was unconstitutional...

CONAN: And the Supreme Court seemed to agree with you both.

Dr. PAUL: Yeah.

CONAN: At least large parts of it. Dr. Paul, good luck to you next week.

Dr. PAUL: Thank you.

CONAN: Rand Paul is an ophthalmologist and a candidate for the Republican Senate nomination in Kentucky. Just a little time left, Ken. But Kentucky is not the only place where there are big stakes next Tuesday.

RUDIN: Right. Big one is in Arkansas. Now, we had the two Democratic candidates here a couple of weeks ago. Blanche Lincoln, a centrist, is being challenged by Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. Bill Halter is backed by MoveOn.org and labor unions, who just don't like either Blanche Lincoln's centrism or her - or her views, switching positions, for example, on health care and things like that. That's one to watch. Obviously Arlen Specter is in serious trouble against John...

CONAN: The latest polls show that to be a dead heat.

RUDIN: It's a dead heat, but there seems to be a momentum heading Joe Sestak's way. That primary is next Tuesday as well. The only others -and then, of course, there's a Republican primary in Arkansas as well, as there is, as you mentioned, in Kentucky as well. And there's also Oregon, but no excitement there. Ron Wyden, favorite...

CONAN: I'm sure there's plenty of excitement, but just not in the polls on Tuesday.

RUDIN: Right.

CONAN: Ken, thanks very much for your time.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Ken Rudin is with us every Wednesday on the Political Junkie segment. Again, you can go to npr.org, read his blog and download his podcast and solve his ScuttleButton puzzle.

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