PADUCAH — A Republican rival continued taking potshots at Bowling Green eye surgeon Rand Paul in the U.S. Senate race on Saturday, accusing him of taking the "Potomac two-step" on the abortion issue.
During a Paducah debate, Secretary of State Trey Grayson questioned whether Paul really opposes abortion or is just trying to win support from Kentucky's socially conservative GOP heading into the May 18 primary election.
"Now it appears he has changed his position," Grayson said. "I guess he's practicing that Potomac two-step that he learned from being the son of a longtime member of Congress."
Paul, the son of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul — a former Republican presidential candidate — accused Grayson of distorting his position. Paul said he is opposed to abortion and would support any legislation to stop it.
"I call today for the lies to stop," Paul told a crowd of more than 200 at a Paducah high school.
Such attacks suggested that Paul, little known just a year ago, has become the Republican to beat in Kentucky's Senate race.
"Clearly, Rand Paul is the front-runner," University of Louisville political scientist Laurie Rhodebeck said. "One of the little perks that goes along with being the front-runner is you're suddenly the focus of everyone else's attacks."
McCracken County Republicans invited only Paul, Grayson and Western Kentucky businessman Bill Johnson to participate in the debate. They are the leading fund-raisers among six candidates seeking the GOP nomination to replace U.S. Senate Jim Bunning, 78. The former Major League pitcher enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame decided not to seek a third term.
Paul has raised $1.8 million in contributions since he entered the race last year. Grayson is a close second with nearly $1.7 million. Johnson has invested more than $350,000 of his own money in his campaign.
Sheriff's deputies removed one of the other candidates, Gurley Martin, 85, of Owensboro, when he demanded to be allowed to take part in the debate. The World War II veteran left the auditorium with a deputy on each arm, delaying the debate only momentarily.
In the debate, the three major candidates voiced similar views on most issues, but they were divided on term limits for congressmen. Paul and Johnson favor term limits. Grayson said he does not, for fear it would remove strong leaders like U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority floor leader.
In the debate, Johnson, the clear crowd favorite, stood between the other two candidates and mostly stayed clear of the testy exchanges between Grayson and Paul. Johnson, who describes himself as a "Ronald Reagan Republican" and who talked boldly about "God-given rights," was often interrupted by applause from the crowd.
"I appeal to those voters who support Dr. Paul and those who support Trey Grayson," Johnson said afterward. "The key to winning in November is bringing together those two groups, and I'm the only candidate who can do that."
On a sidewalk outside the school, David Holman of Owenton held a Bill Johnson placard. Never mind that Holman is a Democrat.
"It's his honesty," Holman said, explaining why he was drawn to Johnson's candidacy. "He doesn't change. He gives the same answers every time, whether you like it or not."
The political attacks on Paul have gone beyond the stump speeches and political forums in the Senate race. He complained last week that someone had used a push poll to distort his positions on several issues, including abortion.
Paul said his campaign office had been alerted to calls being placed to voters across the state from pollsters who incorrectly described him as pro-abortion, a stance that, if true, would earn him the disfavor of Kentucky Republicans.
Paul was careful not to place specific blame, saying he can't prove who instigated or paid for the push poll, an underhanded campaign tactic that aims to influence voter opinion in the guise of a legitimate public opinion survey.
He said he opposes abortion, a stand that helped him win the endorsement of Concerned Women for America, a national organization that pushes for Biblical principles in government.