GOP Senate candidates spar

Four Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate insulted and mocked one another for much of a lively hour of discussion on statewide television Monday night, but no new ground was broken for voters a week before the primary election.

Bowling Green eye surgeon Rand Paul, who is leading in the polls, accused Secretary of State Trey Grayson of lying about his positions in campaign advertisements, and Grayson said Paul had "flip-flopped" on issues, such as whether a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat to the United States.

"Can't you just quiet up a bit?" Paul snapped at Grayson as they talked over each other on Kentucky Tonight, broadcast on Kentucky Educational Television. "That's why your campaign is sagging and failing, because you're being intellectually dishonest."

A third candidate, 86-year-old Gurley L. Martin of Owensboro, chuckled and told the pair, "You're destroying each other is what you're doing."

The host, Bill Goodman, attempted to shush Martin throughout the program as the World War II veteran kept a running commentary about the threat posed by a one-world government while other candidates spoke.

A fourth candidate, John Stephenson of Fort Mitchell, urged a return to God.

"We've got an oligarchy in this country where six banks control 60 percent of this country's wealth," Stephenson said. "We need to make a U-turn to God and godly principles."

A fifth candidate, Jon J. Scribner of Gray, did not attend.

Much of the program focused on front-runners Paul and Grayson, who disagreed on several points.

Paul said his No. 1 concern is the national debt — currently $12.8 trillion — so he would demand a balanced budget his first year in the Senate and an end to earmarked spending for the pet projects of lawmakers. The government should not spend money it doesn't have, he said.

Grayson said it might not be realistic to balance the budget in one year, but he supports a balanced budget as a goal in the near future.

Grayson also said he supports earmarks because members of Congress know better than "federal bureaucrats" how money should be spent in the states. He specifically cited U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, as his role model on earmarks. Rogers, who recently endorsed Grayson, has steered billions of dollars in federal spending to his southeastern Kentucky district.

"Rand doesn't want to go to Washington and fight for our priorities," Grayson said.

Paul and Stephenson said changes must be made to Social Security to keep the program solvent, such as raising the retirement age at which people can access it. Stephenson said he would support a means test to restrict benefits.

Grayson said he would help make the economy strong again so people would choose to delay retirement.

Asked whether they would vote in January to keep U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as the Senate Republican leader, if they are elected, Stephenson said he would not because McConnell seems incapable of compromising with anyone to accomplish anything in Washington; Grayson, whom McConnell has endorsed, said he "proudly" would; and Paul said he would consider it based on which other senators seek the post.

McConnell being Senate GOP leader helps Kentucky in some ways, Paul said, but he added that he disagrees with the senator on a number of actions, such as McConnell's support for the Wall Street bank bailout. Paul said the Republicans he knows don't think the government should own banks or other corporations.

"I think Kentucky wants two U.S. senators, not one. I don't think we want a rubber stamp of one R senator for the other R senator," Paul said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader