Amid his disastrous general election launch, including a canceled appearance on Meet the Press, Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul called President Barack Obama's criticism of BP for its failure to prevent or control the gigantic undersea oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico "un-American."
Why? It's pretty simple. In Kentucky, nearly 60 percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Obama, while 40 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Paul's actual opponent, Attorney General Jack Conway -- 16 percent of voters have not even formed an opinion on him yet. A race between Conway and Paul is a fairly even one despite Rasmussen's consistently outlying poll results, but a race in Kentucky that's all about the president is one that Conway loses.
Paul is hoping that the national media that has happily pilloried him for his retrograde views about civil-rights law will be happy to amplify his criticisms of the president, especially the obvious dog-whistle to Tea Party conservatives who already question the president's authenticity as an American. Conway will be trying the opposite approach, focusing on local issues. We saw that play succeed in Pennsylvania's special election, but Kentucky is a somewhat tougher battleground than the Keystone State. It's a handy signifier, though, to tell when Paul is on his heels: He'll start complaining about anything and everything Obama.
Still, it will be interesting to see how Paul's libertarianism plays in context of the BP spill, since that disaster stems from the very policies of deregulation and laissez-faire free markets that Paul advocates.
-- Tim Fernholz