Covering the bitter Kentucky Senate race on Saturday, reporter Katharine Seelye delved into the blowback from the now-infamous "Aqua Buddha" commercial run by Democratic candidate Jack Conway against Republican Tea Party candidate Rand Paul that questioned Paul's Christian faith: "Kentucky G.O.P. Candidate, Livid Over Opponent's Ad, Lashes Out ."
Although the ad has been criticized by Democrats, Seelye remained neutral, and in fact accused Rand of factually misrepresenting the ad.
Mr. Paul had been so livid over a Conway television commercial, which he says "questions my faith," that he threatened to boycott the debate. And before answering the debate question, he spent several minutes criticizing the commercial itself.
Finally, he said he was still mulling whether to attend the debate and would announce his decision on Friday. On Friday, he said that he would indeed attend, but opened his announcement by saying, "I continue to be astounded that Jack Conway thinks it is appropriate to attack my pro-life Christian faith and by inference my family."
Even as Mr. Paul denounces the commercial, he is extending its life. He may be distorting its words - it does not mention abortion or Mr. Paul's religion or his family - but he has in effect hijacked it to defend himself, raise money and fire up his base.
Mr. Paul, a darling of the Tea Party movement, had been cruising to almost certain election on the lofty principles of smaller government and less spending. But the Conway commercial, which began a week ago, got under his skin - he walked offstage after a debate last week without the traditional handshake - and it seemed to divert Mr. Paul from his earlier task of linking Mr. Conway to President Obama, who has never been popular here. Now, with little more than a week until Election Day, the commercial has come to define the campaign.
Using information from articles in GQ and The Washington Post, the ad says that when Mr. Paul was a student at Baylor University, he was "a member of a secret society that called the Holy Bible 'a hoax' " and the society was "banned for mocking Christianity and Christ." It also asks, "Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up and tell her to bow down before a false idol and say his god was Aqua Buddha?"
As described by the anonymous woman in question, the incident clearly comes off a sophomoric marijuana-fueled prank, and there was no coercion involved, despite the sleazy connotations of the ad accusing Rand Paul of "[tying] a woman up." The Times didn't bother to clarify this, and Seelye didn't address Democratic criticism of the ad until halfway into her story.
Mr. Conway has not attributed his gains to the commercial. But despite heaps of criticism - including from liberals - that the commercial unfairly relied on anonymous charges and crossed a line in questioning Mr. Paul's faith, Mr. Conway is continuing to air it. Asked whether it was effective, Mr. Conway said at a stop in Lawrenceburg, near here: "It's something we're still evaluating, but it resonates with the people of Kentucky."