FRANKFORT — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul continued to criticize his opponent, Attorney General Jack Conway, over cap-and-trade legislation before a friendly crowd of Tea Party activists Saturday, indicating the issue will persist throughout the general election.
Conway, like Paul, says he opposes the measure, which is aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants.
Paul, however, said Conway has equivocated on the issue, supporting cap-and-trade before later saying he opposed it.
"Even ambivalence is not good enough for Kentucky voters," Paul told reporters. "I think the whole concept is a disaster for Kentucky."
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Cap-and-trade would raise electricity rates here that are now among the lowest in the nation, Paul said
In a newspaper article last year, Conway did not oppose the concept of cap-and-trade if it included adequate protection for consumers and businesses, but he also did not endorse the proposal before Congress, saying it didn't meet that test.
Andy Barr, the GOP candidate for the 6th District U.S. House seat now held by Democrat Ben Chandler, criticized the incumbent over cap-and-trade as well.
Chandler voted for the legislation, saying it included money to help the coal industry and customers.
Paul and Barr were among more than a dozen speakers at the Kentucky Freedom Festival on the lawn of the state Capitol attended by several hundred people.
Speaker after speaker slammed the Obama administration and Congress over issues such as the growing federal deficit; health care reform, which some see as an unconstitutional step toward socialism; and what they see as the failure to control the border with Mexico.
One man carried a sign warning of "Obama-geddon."
Paul said he won a whopping victory in the primary "because the message resonates that people are sick and tired of an overreaching government, of a deficit out of control. They want their government back."
Paul said he doesn't think voters can elect enough good people to change the system, though he said he, Barr and Todd Lally, a candidate in the 3rd District in Louisville, would be a step in the right direction.
Congress will have to be forced to improve with new rules such as requiring a balanced federal budget, Paul said.
Paul stuck to familiar themes in his speech, including the need to reduce the federal deficit, support for term limits and an amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, and requiring members of Congress to read bills before voting on them.
Barr said he also supports term limits and a balanced-budget amendment.
There has been an effort to portray the Tea Party movement as extremist, Paul said, but polls would show that those proposals are very much in the mainstream.
Earlier in the day at a rally for Paul in Northern Kentucky, retiring Sen. Jim Bunning, whose seat Paul and Conway are running for, also defended the Tea Party movement, telling the crowd, "The Tea Partiers that I know are my family."
Bunning endorsed Paul in the GOP primary when many establishment Republicans backed Paul's rival, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who attended Saturday's earlier rally.
"The radicals are on the other side," Bunning said. "They don't believe in America. They don't believe in our Constitution. They don't believe in the rule of law.
"They believe that government was created to be an entity to itself. Boy oh boy, would George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, the Founding Fathers turn over in their grave if they saw that view of a democracy."
Paul, a Bowling Green eye doctor, also predicted early Saturday that he'll attract considerable support from conservative Democrats.
"Many conservative Democrats will come to our side on the pro-life issue," Paul said. "Jack Conway is going to be way too liberal for them on the pro-life issue."
Conway has said abortion should be "as rare as possible," but he also has said the procedure should be kept "safe and legal."
In paying tribute to Bunning at the rally, Paul said, "I aspire to be that kind of legislator."
Earlier in the year, Bunning single-handedly held up Senate action for days on legislation extending a host of programs, including highway funding, health insurance subsidies for the unemployed and benefits for the long-term jobless.
Bunning wanted to force Democrats to find ways to finance the bill so it wouldn't add to the deficit, but he eventually relented on the matter to allow Senate action on the legislation.