Reporting from Louisville, Ky. — Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul said Sunday that, if elected, he would support Mitch McConnell for Senate Republican leader, rejecting speculation that he would spurn his fellow Kentuckian.
During the fierce GOP primary last spring, Paul had threatened not to support McConnell, who was backing Paul's rival, Trey Grayson. Paul soundly defeated Grayson with the help of the "tea party" movement.
But during the first debate of the general election, Paul said he would vote for whomever Republicans chose. "I presume that will be Sen. McConnell," he said.
Paul jousted with his Democratic opponent, state Atty. Gen. Jack Conway, over the role of government, Social Security, the healthcare overhaul and deficit spending. The Republican sought to tie Conway to the Obama administration, while Conway argued that Paul's libertarian-leaning views were extreme.
"I think this election is really about the president's agenda," Paul said. "Do you support the president's agenda or do you not? I think his agenda is wrong for America."
The debate, on "Fox News Sunday," was moderated by Fox anchor Chris Wallace.
In a race dominated by issues of federal spending, Wallace tried to pin down both candidates on their proposals to trim entitlements, such as Social Security. Conway suggested cracking down on fraud and allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for better prices.
Paul resisted offering specifics but said he would not propose changes for those now receiving Social Security and Medicare.
"But we do have to admit that we have the baby boom generation getting ready to retire, and we're going to double the amount of retirees," he said. "And to put our head in the sand and just say we're just going to keep borrowing more money is not going to work. There will have to be changes for the younger generation."
Conway accused Paul of being soft on drug abuse, opposing federal protections for the disabled and wanting to raise premiums for Medicare.
Asked whether he thought Paul was "crazy," Conway said, "I think his ideas are out of the mainstream."
Paul, who has been leading in most polls in the conservative state, has largely avoided directly attacking Conway. But on Sunday, he accused Conway of switching positions on extending George W. Bush-era tax cuts — which expire at the end of the year — and on cap-and-trade legislation intended to reduce carbon emissions.
Conway denied the accusations. He said he supported extending the tax cuts for all Americans, not just families who earned less than $250,000 a year. That puts him in alignment with Republicans in Washington, and in disagreement with President Obama and much of the Democratic Party.
"It's no time to be raising taxes," Conway said.