A college acquaintance of Rand Paul, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, said Paul smoked marijuana at the Baptist-affiliated school and belonged to an organization that mocked Christianity, one national political Web site reported this week.
Paul also wrote newspaper letters or opinion pieces at Baylor University in the early 1980s that questioned whether government should try to achieve gender equality in the workplace, though he also decried bigotry and discrimination, a Washington Post columnist wrote Wednesday.
The two articles in two days were yet another indication of intense national interest in Kentucky's Senate race.
That interest is driven by a number of factors, including the battle for control of the Senate, in which Kentucky could play a key role; Paul's famous father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a two-time candidate for president; and Paul's embrace of the Tea Party movement, which is trying to flex its muscle this year for the first time in federal races.
Paul's campaign said dredging up things from 30 years ago is dirty pool.
Democrats are "getting truly desperate," Paul's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, said in an e-mail late Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Paul refused to say whether he smoked marijuana or was in a group at Baylor that mocked Christianity.
"I don't think voters are very much enlightened by discussion of someone's teenage years," Paul told the Herald-Leader after a campaign speech in Henderson.
He declined a second time to say whether he smoked pot in college.
But Paul's Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jack Conway, answered the question after an appearance in Lexington, saying he tried marijuana a couple of times in college.
"Wished I hadn't," he said.
He said he never used any other illegal drug and did not smoke marijuana any other times.
Conway said it was more troubling to him that it appears Paul was in a group that mocked Christianity.
Asked about his faith now, Paul said he is a Christian and is pro-life.
"I've never written or said otherwise," Paul said.
Conway said he was an altar boy in the Roman Catholic Church growing up and still considers himself a Roman Catholic, though he attends an Episcopal church with his wife, Elizabeth.
"My faith is a journey. I am a Christian," Conway said.
The story on Politico.com concerned Paul's membership in a group at Baylor in the early 1980s called the NoZe Brotherhood. The secret organization reportedly was formed as a joke and played pranks on campus.
It made fun of Baylor's religious orientation, one former member told Politico.
William John Green, who said he was in the brotherhood with Paul, told Politico that Paul would have been familiar with the group's "strong subversive anti-Christian strain."
"Randy smoked pot, he made fun of Baptists, none of us ever heard him pontificating about religion," Green told Politico.
Politico cited a number of articles the group put out that mocked religion.
One, for instance, was titled "I was a teenage savior," and another featured an interview with a fictitious California man who said he wrote the Bible "as a lark."
Green told Politico he could not recall any specific things Paul contributed to the newsletter, but he said it was a "collective effort."
Paul was featured on the cover of the group's newsletter in 1983, wearing a fake nose.
The Politico story suggested the articles could be a problem for Paul in Kentucky, a conservative state where many people embrace Christianity.
Democrats got the newsletters from Baylor archives, Politico reported.
That story was followed Wednesday by a report in The Washington Post about letters and an opinion piece by Paul published in the Baylor newspaper before he left for medical school at Duke University.
In one, writing about gender equality in the workplace, Paul suggested there was no way to define what constituted equal work deserving of equal pay.
"Equality is a thing of the mind, originated, conceived and promulgated on a subjective basis," he said.
In response to The Washington Post column, Paul's campaign manager told the newspaper, "It is sad that Democrats are so desperate to prop up Jack Conway's failing campaign that they are digging up 30-year-old college op-eds."
The articles kept the pot stirred on the campaign trail with less than three weeks to go in the election.
Conway cited the Post story in a stump speech in Frankfort as an example of Paul's antipathy toward a broad range of federal programs that have grown up over eight decades to protect rights and help people.
In Paul's view, the Constitution does not give the federal government authority to oversee coal-mine safety, food inspections and consumer protection, to set a minimum wage or to enforce accommodations for people with disabilities, Conway charged.
"Rand Paul believes that almost every single major national initiative to protect people since the 1930s is unconstitutional," Conway said.
In response, Paul criticized Conway for not joining about 20 other states in a lawsuit claiming the national health care overhaul approved this year is unconstitutional, in part because it requires people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.
Conway supports the reform.
Conway's view on the health care overhaul "would cause him to flunk basic constitutional law," Paul said.