LOUISVILLE — Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell defended his TV advertising blitz Friday as part of the give-and-take of a tough campaign, while his challenger tried to turn the latest attack to his own gain.
Democrat Bruce Lunsford took aim at a recent McConnell ad on a widow's claim that a Texas veterans clinic tied to Lunsford contributed to her husband's death by failing to do a medical test.
Lunsford's new commercial accuses McConnell, the Senate's top-ranking Republican, of trying to divert attention from his record at a time of national economic crisis and asks, "Does McConnell have no shame?"
The wrangling over Valor Healthcare — an out-of-state company that operates a number of veterans clinics, though none in Kentucky — has become a focal point of the bare-knuckle Senate campaign.
Lunsford is a former Valor CEO and a current member of its board of directors.
In recent weeks, both campaigns have filled the airwaves with attacks against each other.
During a wide-ranging interview Friday with the editorial board of The Courier-Journal of Louisville, McConnell was asked if he was proud of the message being projected by his ads.
"I've run more positive ads in this campaign than probably any campaign in America," said McConnell, who has run spots stressing his success in winning federal money for medical research and other Kentucky projects.
But McConnell has been running a wave of ads recently attacking the care that Valor gives veterans.
Valor has accused McConnell of manipulating veterans and mischaracterizing its record for political gain.
McConnell, pointing out he's been on the receiving end of attacks, told the editorial board, "Why would you expect me, in a campaign, not to talk about my opponent's record, just like he's talking about my record?"
Lunsford spokesman Cary Stemle responded that a "very high percentage" of McConnell's ads has been "not only negative but false."
McConnell's nearly 90-minute interview was streamed on the Louisville newspaper's Web site, www.courier-journal.com. Lunsford met with the newspaper's editorial board earlier in the month.
In his comments to the editorial board, McConnell defended his support for the Iraq war and the recent $700 billion federal rescue of the battered financial industry.
McConnell said he knew that supporting the taxpayer-backed rescue plan would pose a political challenge because some portrayed it as a Wall Street bailout. He said his motivation was to unclog credit markets that threatened to choke off the ability of businesses and consumers to borrow.
"Everybody likes to be popular," he said. "But I don't think it's an appropriate way to make decisions that are important for the country, to look at the polls every day to make my decision for me. I don't think we were sent there to be potted plants."
McConnell said the rescue package put strict limits on executive compensation in companies getting assistance. He predicted the government will recoup a "significant amount" of the money used to shore up troubled financial institutions, but stopped short of predicting a profit.
Meanwhile, McConnell said he probably would have voted in favor of using military force in Iraq war even if he knew then that the country did not have weapons of mass destruction.
He defended President Bush's arguments in justifying the war, saying it was unfair to accuse the president of deception when the consensus among intelligence agencies was that Iraq had such weapons.
McConnell said the Middle East is better off without Saddam Hussein and with a democratic Iraqi government.
Still, he said he regretted that the war "ended up being as challenging as it was."