PADUCAH — Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Rand Paul rallied exuberant Tea Party supporters Saturday, saying that electing the movement's adherents would deliver a clear national mandate to "take back our government."
While Paul kept to a Tea Party script of balanced budgets and restrained government, Democratic opponent Jack Conway made a pitch for strong mine-safety laws during a campaign swing through the Eastern Kentucky coalfields.
The two rivals courted rural voters on opposite ends of Kentucky during a busy day of a contentious campaign that's among the most closely watched in the country.
The candidates are vying to replace two-term GOP Sen. Jim Bunning, who is retiring.
At a Tea Party rally in Paducah, Paul told several hundred cheering supporters that the overriding plot line from election night will be how Tea Party candidates such as himself fare in high-profile races across the country.
"There will be one story written on Nov. 2," he said. "If we lose, it will be that the Tea Party cannot win an election, that you are too radical, you're too conservative, you believe in the Constitution too much.
"But if we win, we get the mandate, and we get to go to Washington and take back our government."
Paul told reporters afterward that Tea Party candidates already are shaping the national debate. If they win, he said, the mandate would include a balanced-budget amendment to get federal spending under control.
In stressing the need for the balanced-budget proposal, Paul told the crowd that Republicans and Democrats have "proved themselves untrustworthy" in dealing with the nation's debt crisis.
"I don't want to see ... this great country going the way of Greece," he said. "We have to stand up. The citizens have to say, 'Enough's enough. We cannot spend money we don't have.' "
His comments were a reference to the social unrest in debt-plagued Greece, which has been rocked by violent protests.
Paul has called for a full review of government spending, including in the military, but has been short on specifics on how to balance the federal budget.
Meanwhile, Conway concentrated largely on coal issues, promising to protect the industry and its miners while campaigning in Eastern Kentucky, a key battleground in the Senate race.
"People want an independent Kentucky Democrat who will stand up for coal," Conway said. "I think coal is a very important part of our energy future."
Conway said he has fought to protect the coal industry from an overreaching U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and that, as a senator, he would fight to protect miners with stronger safety laws.
"It's an issue about which candidate understands the proper role of government, which candidate really understands how federal mine-safety laws actually work and how they protect miners," he said.
"I think you both stand up for coal and those who mine it."
Conway released a new TV ad Saturday saying Paul's views on Medicare and the national sales tax would "crush Kentucky families." The ad running across Kentucky brings up Paul's past comments about a $2,000 Medicare deductible.
Paul told the Tea Party rally that he doesn't want to raise the Medicare deductible and said he is against making any changes to Medicare and Social Security for current recipients.
Paul criticized politicians for squandering Social Security and Medicare surpluses and said demographic changes might require changes for future retirees as fewer workers support entitlements for more retirees who are living longer.
"The younger generation and some of those who are more successful are probably going to have to bear more of the burden," he told the crowd.
Conway and Paul are set to meet in their fifth and final debate Monday night.