Rand Paul
David Kohl  /  AP
U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul speaks during a debate with Democrat Jack Conway at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Ky.
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updated 10/18/2010 8:55:19 PM ET 2010-10-19T00:55:19

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul said Monday he may opt out of a debate next week with Democrat Jack Conway because he is angry about an attack ad that the tea party darling claims questions his Christian beliefs.

"We haven't fully decided, but I'm not sure I will appear in public with someone who is going to question my religion," Paul, a Presbyterian who describes himself as "a pro-life Christian," said during a press conference in Lexington.

Since it began running late Friday, the blistering ad that paints Paul as a religious wacko has overshadowed all other issues in one of the closest watched races in the nation.

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The ad is based on published reports that Paul, during his college years, was a member of a secret society at Baylor University known as the NoZe Brotherhood that called the Bible a hoax. A narrator in the ad asks why Paul, while in college, tied a woman up and told her to worship an idol, and why Paul said his god was "Aqua Buddha." Those claims by an anonymous woman were made in articles in GQ Magazine and The Washington Post earlier this year. At the time, Paul called the articles ridiculous.

Paul demanded an apology for his opponent's ad on Sunday in an acrimonious debate after which he refused to shake Conway's hand.

Conway, a Catholic, hasn't apologized. Instead, he has defended the ad. In the debate, Conway said Paul still hasn't answered questions raised in the ad.

"Why did he freely join a group known for mocking, for making fun of people with faith?" Conway asked during the debate. "And secondly, when is it ever a good idea to tie up a woman and ask her to kneel before a false idol, your god, which you call Aqua Buddha?"

The flap has drawn responses from across the country, including one from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who called the ad "a classless attack" that "will be studied by future political scientists as the most egregious example of slash and burn sleaze politics."

"Kentucky people aren't as gullible as Jack Conway must take them for," said Huckabee, a Baptist preacher and former Republican presidential candidate. "I'm proud to stand with Rand Paul and his family through this disgusting attempt by his opponent to win even at the expense of his own soul."

Hoping for sympathy from Kentucky's electorate, Paul prepared Monday to begin airing a TV ad taking Conway to task, charging that the Democrat is engaging in gutter politics.

"I'm disappointed where the level of the debate's gone," Paul told reporters Monday. "It does effect me and my family to talk about my faith."

The Conway campaign put together a conference call for reporters to talk to Kentucky ministers about issues raised in the ad. Only one minister took part, a retired Baptist preacher now living in Alabama who had been active in Democratic politics in Kentucky in the past. Campaign spokesman John Collins said others were supposed to be on the call, but that they had scheduling conflicts.

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University of Kentucky political scientist Stephen Voss said Conway's ad, part of a $300,000 purchase of airtime in TV markets statewide, could be effective in that it plays on a widely held impression that Paul "is a little odd." But Voss said, "I suspect that Conway is ultimately going to regret running that ad. Attacking someone's religious convictions when they're running for office has been unpopular for a really long time."

Paul has received endorsements from Christian leaders because of his stands on hot button issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. Conway, like Paul, opposes same-sex marriages. But the two are on opposite sides in the abortion debate.

"I am 100 percent pro-life and oppose all abortions," Paul said in a response to a questionnaire from The Associated Press. "As a physician, I understand the fragility and value of life at all stages. During my medical training I refused to participate in abortion training, and I continue to oppose abortion now."

Conway defends a woman's right to abortions early in her pregnancy.

"A woman should have the right to make her own health choices in consultation with her family, doctor, and spiritual adviser," Conway said in answer to the same questionnaire. "I believe abortion should be safe, legal and as rare as possible. I oppose late-term abortion and support parental notification laws."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Is Obama a liability to Dems on the trail?

  1. Transcript of: Is Obama a liability to Dems on the trail?

    LAUER: All right, Kelly O'Donnell in Washington for us this morning. Kelly , thank you very much . David Gregory is moderator of " Meet the Press ." David , good morning to you.

    GREGORY: Hey, Matt.

    LAUER: So get -- let's talk about this Ohio image last night. We have the president and the first lady campaigning together, first time since 2008 . Obviously, they're looking to generate some of that energy and mojo from that previous campaign. How's it going to go over in your opinion?

    GREGORY: Well, I think there's some signs, there's some evidence that there are more Democrats around the country who are getting a little bit more interested in the race, a little bit more intense about the race around -- these races around the country, and that's really what the president is trying to tap into. He's also trying to issue a warning, and you heard that from Robert Gibbs on " Meet the Press " yesterday, which is to raise the specter of Republicans , particularly those associated with President Bush , trying to influence the campaign, trying to take a step backward. These are the warnings right now the president's issuing.

    LAUER: But we've been hearing for the last several months now that the president has become a liability to some Democratic candidates in some regions of the country. Is he less of a liability with the first lady at his side?

    GREGORY: Yes. And it also depends where they go. You know, they went to Ohio State for that rally. That's were you have younger voters, that's where

    you're more likely to get part of that coalition that he built back in 2008: African-Americans , younger voters, traditional pillars of the Democratic Party that he can try to motivate again and say to them, 'Look, this is an important election. Don't sit out on the sidelines.' And again, with the first lady, she's very popular, it does raise the positive images of the '08 campaign again.

    LAUER: Really quickly, bringing up Robert Gibbs , you did just a second ago, over the summer he said he was -- you know, that the Democrats might lose control of Congress . Now he's saying, on your show yesterday, he thinks actually they could hold the House and the Senate . Is it just better spin, or is there a better scenario developing out there?

    GREGORY: I think it's a better spin more than a better scenario. I think at this point what matters -- remember, there's early voting going on in parts of the country, in Colorado , in Illinois . They don't want to send a message from the White House that they think all is lost.

    LAUER: Right.

    GREGORY: They've got to get people out there to try to mitigate the damage.

    LAUER: Where's the money going right now? With 15 days to go until the election, where are the parties sending the bulk of their money?

    GREGORY: Well, the GOP 's got a big advantage. You're going to see them really work on getting out the vote, absentee voting, early voting . They're going to look in terms of the House in races -- states, rather, that have four

    competitive races. And they'll look to some key Senate races as well: Illinois , West Virginia , Nevada , maybe even California and Washington state , where they can pump some money into.

    LAUER: And finally, let's go into this other interview you had yesterday where you were talking to the Senate candidate, the Republican from Colorado , Ken Buck , and you asked him if homosexuality was a choice, and he said yes. Clearly that's going to ruffle some feathers. But in this year where everybody out there says the election is about three things -- jobs, jobs and more jobs -- is it going to have an impact?

    GREGORY: Well, I think it could only if the Democrat is successful in raising the specter of social issues, which he's trying to do. And indeed, Ken Buck has taken positions that sort of, you know, raise the need to ask that kind of question to clarify his views. But I've talked to Democrats in Colorado and they say you know what a lot of Coloradoans will talk about is what is the debt to GDP ratio.

    LAUER: Right.

    GREGORY: They know that government spending is the big issue out there, and that's why Senator Bennett has a big hill to climb.

    LAUER: All right, David Gregory , fasten your seat belt, it's going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

    GREGORY: Yeah.

    LAUER: David , thank you very much . We appreciate it.

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