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Paul limits media exposure after civil rights flap

Image: Rand Paul
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul addresses a luncheon meeting of the Lions Club in Bowling Green, Ky. Ed Reinke / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Where in the world is Rand Paul?

His campaign says he isn't hiding, but the Republican U.S. Senate nominee has barely been seen since he roiled state and national politics with his suggestion that government should not require private businesses to serve minorities.

Campaign manager Jesse Benton said Paul is spending his time preparing for what promises to be a tough general election campaign and tending to patients at his Bowling Green ophthalmology practice.

"At the same time," Benton said, "he is going to use his limited time to make sure that he gives priority to people who are going to give a fair story and not practice a 'gotcha journalism' that can be so destructive."

Paul sparked widespread anger with a remark last month to MSNBC host Rachel Maddow that he has misgivings about the Civil Rights Act. Paul told Maddow he abhors racial discrimination but suggested that the federal government should not have the power to force restaurants to serve minorities if owners don't want to.

While Republican leaders sought to limit damage from that statement, Paul, son of former Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas, raised eyebrows again days later by defending the oil company blamed for the Gulf oil spill and telling a Russian TV station that babies of illegal immigrants shouldn't automatically receive U.S. citizenship.

But now Paul appears to be listening to political advisers who suggested he reject national interview requests.

Republican strategist Larry Forgy said Paul, a darling of the tea party movement, doesn't need the national media that shadowed him in the final weeks of the primary campaign and booked him for appearances in the days after his victory.

"He's not running for national office," Forgy said.

The race is being closely watched nationally as Democrats seek to reclaim the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, a 78-year-old former major league pitcher known for gaffes of his own who opted not to seek a third term.

Paul easily defeated Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the May 18 GOP primary, but the two weeks since have been turbulent. His remarks sparked protests outside Kentucky's Republican Party headquarters and he canceled an appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press."

In an interview Thursday with a Kentucky radio station — the kind of media attention he's seeking now — Paul reiterated that he doesn't want to repeal the Civil Rights Act.

"In fact, it's not something that had ever even crossed my mind," he told Louisville's WHAS-AM. "It hasn't been a real pressing concern in the debates around Kentucky over the past year."

But Paul's Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Jack Conway, said Paul's comments show he wants to be "the prince of an out-of-the-mainstream movement."

"I think that obviously, with the shake-up in his campaign and with him disappearing from the national cable shows, they're trying to get some kind of message control within that campaign," Conway said.

Benton said Paul isn't ruling out occasional appearances on national TV.

"This is a high-profile race, and there'll be a lot of people around the country who want to follow this race, and Dr. Paul will make time and find time when he can to talk to the national press," Benton said. "The priority now and through the rest of this race is gong to be talking to Kentucky voters and talking to Kentucky press."