A stark contrast in choices faces Kentucky voters in this year's U.S. Senate campaign between Attorney General Jack Conway and Bowling Green ophthalmologist Rand Paul — both of whom the Herald-Leader endorsed in the primary.
Conway is a moderate Democrat who has built a commendable record of public service in a relatively short period of time.
As a staffer for former Gov. Paul Patton, Conway was involved in drafting the late 1990s reform of Kentucky's higher education system. He also helped rewrite the state's criminal justice code. His record as attorney general includes significant success in fighting Medicaid fraud and cyber-crime. He has also been a strong advocate for Kentucky's utility consumers.
Conway has a clear understanding of the issues confronting this state and nation. Although we disagree with him on some details of energy legislation and extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, he presents a cogent, understandable defense of his position.
Most important, perhaps, Conway "gets" the benefits Kentucky derives from the federal government. He knows federal aid is important to dealing with the pressing problem of drug abuse and the trafficking and other crimes that accompany it. He understands that agricultural subsidies aren't just handouts to farmers, but also include school nutrition programs. He realizes the value Pell grants have in educating Kentucky's youth.
And Conway has a plan for turning what is now a jobless economic recovery into a job-creating recovery. He calls it a "hometown tax credit." It would give a tax break to small and medium-sized businesses for each new job they add. He would cap the cost to the federal government at $30 billion and pay for it by closing offshore tax loopholes.
Since riding the Tea Party wave to victory in the Republican primary as a relatively unvetted candidate, Paul has spent the summer and early fall revealing himself to be quite the ideologue who's long on simplistic slogans but short on understanding the drastic consequences of adhering to those slogans.
What came across as refreshingly candid in the spring proved to be distressingly extremist when Paul was pressed on issues ranging from civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
As a senator, his mission would be a chain-saw massacre of federal government that lays waste to farm subsidies, education spending, mine-safety regulations, federal aid in fighting the scourge of drugs and numerous other programs of significant benefit to Kentuckians.
Which brings us to another disappointing post-primary revelation about Paul. As far as Kentucky is concerned, he is a drive-by candidate — a transplant who, despite living here for the better part of two decades, never stopped to smell the bluegrass and learn about his adopted state's history, culture, problems or needs.
The sole focus of his campaign involves his antipathy for federal government. If he mentions Kentucky at all, it is almost as an afterthought.
So, the stark choice for Kentucky voters is this: a moderate Democrat who understands Kentucky's problems and needs and has a plan for creating jobs versus an ideologue Republican/Tea Partier with no record, no understanding of the state and a chain saw for a plan.
By far, Jack Conway stands as the better prepared candidate to serve the best interests of Kentucky in the U.S. Senate.
The unendorsed candidate may submit a 250-word response by noon Wednesday.