LOUISVILLE — Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway were sharply critical of each other in their first joint appearance since winning their party's U.S. Senate nominations.
Paul said Conway, the state attorney general, had engaged in a conflict of interest by taking contributions from utility companies over which his office has some oversight.
Conway said Paul's comment that "sometimes accidents happen" when discussing the Gulf Coast oil spill and a fatal Kentucky mining accident on national television revealed a "cold and callous world view" that doesn't speak well of his attitude toward holding Wall Street accountable.
Each said the other had misstated his views. At one point, Paul shook his head and looked displeased as Conway spoke.
The exchanges on Thursday, at a convention of county judge-executives and magistrates, signal a likely sharp edge to the general election.
When they weren't verbally swinging at each other, the candidates mostly stuck to familiar themes.
Paul, for instance, reiterated his support for term limits for members of Congress; his proposal that companies which get federal contracts agree not to lobby federal officials during the contract; and his call to rein in federal spending and balance the budget.
Most people support requiring a balanced federal budget, but that doesn't happen because federal legislators become enamored with their power, Paul said.
Paul said if he wins, he will filibuster if necessary to push for a balanced federal budget.
"If I'm elected, I will force that issue," he said.
Conway spoke of his proposal for a tax credit for small and medium-sized businesses to spur hiring; his call to close offshore tax loopholes for businesses; and the need to let Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices in order to cut federal costs.
The nation also needs to review trade pacts, Conway said, noting that 100,000 manufacturing jobs have left Kentucky.
"We need to stop shipping jobs overseas," Conway said.
The two outlined differing views on the practice of earmarking money in the federal budget for specific programs and projects.
Lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, both Republicans, have used earmarks to steer millions to the state.
Paul has called for an end to the practice. All spending should be scrutinized through the regular committee process rather than tacked onto other measures, he said Thursday.
In an interview with the Herald-Leader, Paul said he has pledged to not use earmarks if he's elected, even if Congress doesn't reform the earmark process.
However, that would not preclude him from working to get money for Kentucky projects through the regular process, Paul said.
Conway said Congress needs to reform the process of earmarking money to make it more transparent. However, he said he would not call for an end to earmarks, noting that the state has gotten money through such designations that has benefited the state and created jobs.
Paul said there are clear differences in the candidates, saying he opposes the federal health-care overhaul; abortion; and cap-and-trade legislation that the Obama administration favors as a way to reduce power-plant emissions.
Paul said Conway will have to explain whether he would support Obama and Democrats on raising income taxes and reinstating the 55 percent federal estate tax. "If Jack and President Obama get their way on raising taxes," it could sink the economy, he said.
In an interview with the Herald-Leader, Conway said he opposes bringing back the estate tax at 55 percent.
If the tax is reinstated, Conway said, it should be at a lower rate and nearly all family farms and small businesses should be exempt.
Conway also said Paul misstated his position on cap-and-trade.
Conway said he opposes the legislation because it would mean higher electric rates for Kentuckians and cost the state an economic advantage based on lower rates.
In a newspaper article last year, Conway did not oppose the concept of cap-and-trade legislation if it included adequate protections for people and businesses, but said the proposal before Congress was inadequate on several fronts.
Conway dismissed Paul's charge that he had a conflict of interest on campaign contributions from utility companies.
The state Public Service Commission, not his office, sets rates, and his office has intervened in such cases to save ratepayers $100 million, Conway said.
Conway said it didn't show a commitment to accountability when Paul said on television that a federal official's tough talk about BP, the company responsible for the Gulf Coast oil spill, was "un-American," or when Paul essentially says government should leave businesses alone.
Paul has called to end federal workplace safety standards, Conway said.
Paul, however, said he didn't think he had ever called for an end to those standards. And he said Conway had misstated his comments about BP.
His point was that an administration official's rhetoric about putting a boot on the company's neck was inappropriate, Paul said.
BP should be held accountable for the spill, but not be put out of business, Paul said.