A Look At The Ky. Race Between Paul, Conway

David Greene talks to Lisa Autry, reporter for member station WKYU in Bowling Green, Ky. She's covering the Senate race between Rand Paul and Jack Conway. Autry says Democratic candidate Conway has been popular as attorney general, but his party affiliation is working against him.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Another Senate race that's drawing a lot of national attention is Kentucky's. The Republican nominee is Rand Paul, an eye doctor and also son of the libertarian hero and former presidential candidate, Ron Paul. Rand Paul carries the flag of the Tea Party and the enthusiastic support of Sarah Palin, and he soundly defeated an establishment Republican in the primary. His opponent now is Kentucky's Attorney General Jack Conway.

And for more on that race, we turn to Lisa Autry. She is a reporter for the NPR member station WKYU in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Lisa, welcome to the program.

LISA AUTRY: Thank you. Glad to be with you.

GREENE: So this is a race to fill the seat held by Republican Jim Bunning. And nationally, Rand Paul's rise and win in the primary was a very big story. So remind us a little bit about him.

AUTRY: Well, Rand Paul is an ophthalmologist by trade. He is a very dedicated family man. He has three sons, who he will tell you he tries not to ever miss a ballgame or anything like that. He's a very committed family man. Not new to politics, but he is new to running for office. And the local GOP will tell you before now, it was Rand Paul who?

(Soundbite of laughter)

AUTRY: He was not a household name. He was not much of a voice for politics until now. His opponent, Jack Conway, on the other hand, is a much more polished politician.

GREENE: And the attorney general in Kentucky right now, we should say.

AUTRY: Yes. He lost a 2002 congressional campaign but was elected in 2007 as Kentucky's attorney general. He is seen as an up-and-comer in the Democratic Party. He's young, charismatic, speaks well, televises well.

GREENE: And, Lisa Autry, you're covering a race in a generally Republican state. Most polls show the Republican Rand Paul in the lead, although one poll showed them neck and neck. What exactly do you think is going on?

AUTRY: Well, it's interesting. About the same time in early September, SurveyUSA and Rasmussen came out with polls each showing Rand Paul with a 15-point lead over Jack Conway.

GREENE: Sizable.

AUTRY: Yes. And then a few days later, CNN and Time comes out with its own poll, showing the race a dead heat. SurveyUSA and Rasmussen surveyed likely voters. CNN/Time surveyed registered voters. And also, the CNN/Time poll was conducted over a five-day period versus the SurveyUSA and Rasmussen was taken over a one or two-day period.

GREENE: So people more likely to vote might be those who are sort of Tea Party enthusiasts and saying they would support Rand Paul.

AUTRY: Yes.

GREENE: Well, I want to take a listen to what you've been hearing a lot of on television in Kentucky, and that's some of these ads from the candidates. First of all, Attorney General Conway, the Democrat. And in this ad, members of law enforcement are talking about him.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Mr. BILL MARCUM (Sheriff, Calloway County, Kentucky): Jack Conway is the chief law enforcement officer of Kentucky and a darn good one.

Unidentified Man #1: He's been very tough on crime.

Unidentified Man #2: Jack was the part of the biggest drug bust in Kentucky history.

GREENE: So some praise for the attorney general, the Democrat in this race.

And then here's an ad for the Republican Rand Paul.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Woman: Dr. Rand Paul...

Dr. RAND PAUL (Republican, Kentucky; Senatorial Candidate): I'm Rand Paul. I'm a physician, not a career politician. And I approve this message.

GREENE: So, Lisa, not a career politician. I mean, that's certainly not the first time we've heard that during a campaign. But it seems like in a year like this, with all the anti-government fervor, that would play really well. But is it a little more complicated for a candidate like Rand Paul, trying to shore up traditional Republican voters because, you know, he's a committed libertarian, he talks about abolishing the Department of Education?

AUTRY: Well, I think Rand Paul would tell you that he's not a committed libertarian. He's more in line with Republican views - at least that's what he's trying to get across.

I think the key for either one of these men is winning the conservative Democratic vote, the so-called Reagan Democrats.

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

AUTRY: Kentucky has, you know, right now, a very high disapproval rating of President Obama - one of the highest in the nation. So it's obviously going to be hard for Jack Conway to run in this state. We have so many more registered Democrats in this state, but typically we elect Republicans to federal office.

GREENE: And we should say that Conway has not yet brought President Obama into campaign for him, although Republican Rand Paul has offered to pay the White House to bring President Obama...

AUTRY: That's right. Rand Paul has said, you get President Obama down here to campaign for you and I'll buy his plane ticket.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AUTRY: So far, Jack Conway has not taken him up on that offer. As Jack Conway has tried to portray Paul as soft on crime, Paul has tried to portray Conway as soft on Obama.

GREENE: Lisa Autry, thank you for talking to us.

AUTRY: Thank you.

GREENE: That's Lisa Autry. She's a reporter for member station WKYU in Bowling Green, Kentucky, telling us about the Senate race in the state of Kentucky.

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