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The Anti-Rand Paul 'Aqua Buddha' Spot: The God Ad That Failed

4 years ago
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SHELBYVILLE, Ky. – Emily Daniel, a 26-year-old 2008 Barack Obama supporter, is not the kind of voter that Democrat Jack Conway can afford to lose in his scorched-earth Senate race in which he trails in the polls. But Daniel, who works in the Shelby County Courthouse and is married to a farmer, is reluctantly voting for Tea Party favorite Rand Paul.

A major reason for her ideological zigzag is the vicious Conway ad (maybe the roughest of Campaign 2010) that accuses Paul of worshipping in his college days a false god named "Aqua Buddha." As she explains, "I really thought it crossed the line."
Daniels was picking up lunch Thursday at McKinley's Deli, a small-town meeting place on Main Street that has everything (fresh baked bread and tasty chili) except a colorful slogan. Tired of the moral fisticuffs over the Conway commercial ("Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol and say his god was Aqua Buddha?"), I wanted to judge the spot by the most cynical standards of politics. Click play below to watch the ad:

So I came to Shelbyville – the heart of an agricultural and exurban county east of Louisville (John McCain won 62 percent here in 2008) – to test whether the Aqua Buddha ploy was winning Conway votes among its target audience of social conservatives. The tentative verdict after my 15-person impromptu lunch-time canvass at McKinley's is that the commercial is the God ad that failed.

Karen Crouch, a secretary for the local school system who is on the cusp of retirement age, said, "The ad's pushing me towards Rand Paul. It's such a personal attack and he did it because Rand Paul had a lead in this race. Conway's desperate." Crouch, who was having lunch with her husband Larry, is a registered Republican with an independent streak. When I asked her about her 2008 presidential vote, she said, "Well, it wasn't McCain."
Rand Paul – the son of libertarian Texas Congressman Ron Paul – offers Democrats a target-rich environment in this conservative state. In the heady aftermath of his decisive May primary victory, Paul waffled on whether he would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Aqua Buddha stunt (which Paul now denies ever occurred despite press interviews with the woman he allegedly victimized) seems odd, even for a college student.

But many Paul voters already know that they will not be voting for a generic senator from Central Casting. "The ad was an effort to label Paul as off the reservation and a little weird," said Tyler Long, the vice president of a local bank. "But we already knew that." Yes, the 37-year-old Long ("I'm a reliable Republican with Tea Party sympathies") is unequivocally backing Rand Paul.

Though random voter interviews are a crude barometer, it does seem telling that the only person at McKinley's at all upset by Paul's long-ago and immature connection with Aqua Buddha was a loyal Democrat. "I don't want anyone who worships idols," said Morris Adams, who is old enough to have served in General Patton's army during World War II. "We've got a lot of nice churches in this town."

The Conway campaign candidly admits that it aired the Aqua Buddha attack ad last week to change the conversation away from Barack Obama, who has always been unpopular in Kentucky (winning only 41 percent in the state in 2008). The Democratic strategy is that anything that focuses on Rand Paul himself works -- even if the GOP Senate nominee countered with a religiously themed response. The Paul spot ends with the line, "What kind of shameful politician would sink this low to bear false witness against another man just to win an election?"

Political mavens who voluntarily watch campaign commercials sitting at their computers or during cable TV discussions get a distorted picture of the television ad wars. Armchair media consultants tend to overlook the concept of ad clutter – and how campaign spots blur in the minds of the voters. A commercial has to be shrill and different to be noticed this late in the campaign season when every candidate, party committee and interest group is jostling for the attention of the voters.
By my unofficial count, during the 5:00 news hour Thursday on WAVE, the NBC affiliate in Louisville, 30 separate 30-second political spots were aired for Kentucky and Indiana elections. Put another way, one quarter of the broadcast (15 minutes) was devoted just to campaign ads.
In addition to Conway's Aqua Buddha attack and the Rand Paul response (both ads were shown twice), viewers were pummeled with commercials for: Louisville's mayoral candidates, contenders for county judge, two incumbent congressman and their rivals (mostly involving Democrat Baron Hill's tough re-election fight in southern Indiana), the Indiana Senate race (underdog Democrat Brad Ellsworth bought two spots) and, yes, two all-important races for state representative in Indiana.

If you got bored reading that list, imagine what it was like to actually watch all these commercials. Other than a gauzy positive for Louisville Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth (and low-key spots for two Kentucky judicial candidates), every other commercial (27 of them) was entirely or partly negative. Many of these were attack ads from party committees (the Republican Senate Campaign Committee was on the attack against Conway) and from pro-Republican interest groups like the Chamber of Commerce.

Out-gunned about three-to-one on Kentucky television, Jack Conway unleashed a nuclear suitcase bomb against Rand Paul. The radioactive Aqua Buddha ad was crude, ethically questionable – and, judging from the reaction at McKinley's Deli, ineffective. But say this about the Conway campaign -- it did find a way (one that hopefully few candidates will ever emulate) to cut through the ad clutter.

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Why isn't Conway bragging about bailing out GM, Banks, Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae and unions, voting on the stimulus bill, not reading and voting on Obama Care?? Why isn't he bragging about bering a dutiful Democrat and rubber stamping everything Obama, Pelosi and Reid put before him? That should endear him to all his constituents.

October 23 2010 at 2:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Rand Paul continues a comfortable lead in the polls as of today.....

October 22 2010 at 5:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Not by any means a fan of Rand Paul... but to make a big deal of a college fraternity hyjinx is ludicrous. To me his earlier statement that he didn't believe that the Civil Rights Act shouldn't have applied to private individuals or businesses is outrageous. So businesses would still be able to refuse to serve people based on their ethnicity... neighborhoods could still be "restricted". I'm old enough to remember when a black person would only be employed by a major corporation as a janitor no matter what his or her level of education. Anyone who wants to go back to those days deserves the likes of a Rand Paul... but the rest of America doesn't ... I hope he goes down the tubes... for the good of America.

October 22 2010 at 4:34 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Earl58's comment
John B

What a stupid ad, why don't people just run on the issues?

October 22 2010 at 1:56 PM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply

What's the surprise? Nancy Reagan was taking advice from an astrologist. A Republican, a righteous god-fearing one no doubt.

October 22 2010 at 1:26 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply

It's just not a good advert at all... "why" is immaterial. Merely reporting the incidences of questionable actions or statements with clearly stated sources that folks could research would have been much more effective.

October 22 2010 at 1:21 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

As a self-proclaimed liberal, I found this ad to be pathetic and unAmerican. After watching Conway's interview, I completely disagree with him. He stated that people shouldn't have the right to make fun of other people's religions. Now, not to mention that this was 30 years ago. I'm in college now, I've written paper's against religion, dismissing it as folly and its followers as fool-hardy and dangerous. I've made jokes about religious people. So what? It was all in jest, no one got hurt, and it's the experience of going to college where you examine ideas, act a bit stupid, and take big positions in things. Conway is no liberal, he's no conservative. I don't like Rand Paul's politics much. And I would probably just abstain from voting in that district. But I don't think Conway deserves to win, and I think this ad is the main reason he doesn't deserve to win. What a joke! Such a pathetic candidate.

October 22 2010 at 1:18 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to oliver0160's comment

I hope in time you realize that making fun of anyone's religion is hurtful and unnecessary. I taught college and if you wrote a paper like you stated you will be sitting down with me to rewrite your paper.

October 22 2010 at 1:39 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

This tiring nonsense needs to stop if politics and its participants are ever to be taken seriously again. Time to ban campaigning on television and radio, it is far too wasteful. Assign a centeralized space in each voting district (and online for that matter) to which each candidates criminal record, credit score, and employment history are posted. Give each candidate 10 pages of Times New Roman double spaced size 12 font formatted pages onto which they can place their platform, and THEN we voters can get back to making informed decisions.

October 22 2010 at 1:18 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

The woman who gave the GQ interview where this first appeared said a) she was never kidnapped and b) what was printed in the article was not at all what she said. Its amazing to me that some "unnamed source" 26 years ago can make these types of allegations and idiots believe it. An interview with rachel maddow was edited to make it look like he wanted to repeal the civil rights act and THAT was proven to be a fraud. The establishment doesn't want Rand Paul in office because he stands for the same constitutional grounds as his father. They both demand accountability from the Federal Reserve and an audit of US gold reserves.

October 22 2010 at 1:17 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

Rand paul is a breathe of fresh air in KY politics!

October 22 2010 at 1:17 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply


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