Rand Paul, the Tea Party-backed Republican for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky, was incredulous several weeks ago that GQ magazine interviewed an anonymous friend from his college years in an unflattering profile of him.
“I mean there’s thousands of articles printed on me every week now,” Paul said then, during an interview with The Daily Caller. “And do you think anyone is going back and asking my opponent their friends from college? No.”
Stephen Voss, a political scientist at the University of Kentucky, says that’s what happens when you become a novelty candidate. Your opponent — in Paul’s case, Democratic attorney general Jack Conway — often goes unscrutinized, while the media scrambles to dig up everything they can on you.
“I think in terms of what’s making the radar for most voters. Rand Paul is gobbling up most of the attention,” Voss said of Paul, a constitutional conservative who has been battling the Democrats’ narrative that his views are outside the mainstream.
“It’s a double edge sword because on the one hand, if [Conway] wants to generate positive momentum, he can’t get the attention. But then there is the flip side, which is when you run against one of these novelty candidates, nobody is really scrutinizing you very closely,” Voss said.
So who is Conway?
He was elected attorney general of Kentucky in 2007, after narrowly losing a 2002 race for Congress. He went to Duke University and has a law degree from The George Washington University.
While in law school, Conway did not hide his political ambitions, two acquaintances from his legal training days in Washington recalled during interviews with The Daily Caller.
“My impression of Jack from the day I met him — this was back 15 years — it was obvious he was very much focused on, you know, becoming an elected official in some capacity,” one source said.
Conway’s website appears to have a thin listing of policy positions available, though Conway spokeswoman Allison Haley dismissed that notion during an interview, offering to email TheDC a list of his stances.
A tab on the front page of Conway’s website titled, “On the Issues,” only lists five topics: cutting the deficit, small businesses, protecting social security, Wall Street reform and hometown tax credit. He does not mention topics like President Obama’s health care bill or the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Paul, on the other hand, lists 18 topics on his website, including those titled: abortion; bailouts; campaign finance reform; energy innovation; federal reserve; guns and politicians; health care; home schooling; illegal immigration; inflation; national defense; privacy and liberty; sovereignty; taxes and debt; term limits; United Nations; veterans; and World Bank and IMF.
The Louisville Courier-Journal reviewed Conway’s positions and found that while Conway, who has trailed Paul in most recent polls, appears to hold liberal views on the new health care law and abortion, he holds moderate positions on the death penalty, gay marriage and the Iraq war. The executive editor at that paper — the largest in the state — could not immediately be reached for comment.
One law school acquaintance said he remembered Conway not as the centrist he is portrayed as now, but as much more liberal.
But Paul’s campaign doesn’t quite see it that way. Gary Howard, a spokesman for Paul, said by email of Conway: “He is still very liberal. As of this year he’s flip-flopped his positions on cap and trade, tax cuts, and a range of things. He still supports Obamacare and says he would have voted for it. He is not pro-life, etc the list goes on.”
Conway’s spokeswoman said the “biggest division in the race” is how Conway has a record of holding people accountable, in contrast to Paul, who “wants to deregulate everything.”
When Conway released his first television ad of the general election Monday, news reports made a point to say that in an election that has been all about Paul, the ad did not mention the Republican by name.
Voss, the political science professor, suggested that he wouldn’t be surprised if more opposition research on Conway made its way into the news. “I’m sure Rand Paul has people who are digging, you know, all campaigns have opposition research. If the election numbers really started to move in a bad way against Paul, you might start to see some stories emerge.”
Voss also recalled one instance in history where all the attention on one novelty candidate led the media to neglect doing the necessary scrutiny of the person who went on to win the election.
“For example, I was a reporter in the early 90s when David Duke was running in Louisiana, and the guy who was elected to lead the state was a corrupt guy who eventually went to prison, named Edwin Edwards,” he said.
“Well, nobody was pressing deeply into his background because all the coverage was on David Duke.”