As the midterm elections move into their final weeks, the Tea Party Express kicked off its bus tour on Monday, even as some of the movement’s best-known candidates tried to recover from a weekend that had some Republicans wondering if their candidates could withstand the pressures of the final electoral push.
Sarah Palin was on hand to launch the bus tour, designed to hit key districts in 19 states before ending in the presidential wellhead of New Hampshire on Nov. 1, the day before midterm voting.
But in Kentucky, Alaska and Colorado, Republicans tried to deal with their senatorial candidates, all conservatives fighting in seats that the GOP needs in its drive to win influence in the Senate.
Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway clashed in their Sunday debate over whether Paul in his college years belonged to a group that mocked Christianity. The charge is based on published reports that Paul, during his years at Baylor University, belonged to a secret society known as the NoZe Brotherhood. The group sponsored an event that involved tying up a woman and forcing her to kneel before to a false idol, called Aqua Buddha, according to Conway.
Rand accused Conway of lying and refused the customary handshake among friendly rivals. On Monday, Paul went further, launching an ad, stressing his own Christian roots and that he kept Jesus in his heart.
“Don’t be fooled by Jack Conway’s’ desperate attack. It is shameless, disgraceful, gutter politics at its worst,” the ad intones. “What kind of man would bear false witness against another man just to win an election? This one would.”
Paul, who was an outsider who defeated the GOP establishment’s choice to win the nomination, and Conway are fighting to replace GOP Sen. Jim Bunning.
In Alaska, another outsider supported by the tea party movement found himself at the center of a dispute over press access.
Joe Miller, who won the GOP nomination, is locked in a three-way race for the seat, now held by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is waging a write-in campaign to stay in office. A journalist with the online Alaska Dispatch was detained by security guards while trying to interview Miller. The incident became one more issue in the campaign that has split Republicans into their factions.
The third tea-party candidate to find himself under fire is Ken Buck in Colorado. He debated Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet on NBC's “Meet the Press.”
In his comments, Buck said he believed that sexual orientation was a choice, rather than something that one was born with.
“I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you have a choice,” Buck said.
Bennet snapped back that he believed Buck was “outside the mainstream of views on this.” In his campaign, Bennet has increasingly portrayed Buck as too extreme for Colorado voters.