WASHINGTON – A tea party conservative on a national stage, Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky labored Thursday to explain remarks suggesting businesses be allowed to deny service to blacks without fear of federal interference, declaring, “I abhor racial discrimination.”
In a written statement, Paul said, “I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person.”
Paul told CNN he would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a statement he declined to make one day earlier.
On Wednesday, Paul expressed support for the act’s provisions banning discrimination in public facilities, but he had misgivings about extending the same requirement to private businesses – then or now.
“Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don’t serve black people?” he was asked by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday.
“Yes. I’m not in favor of any discrimination of any form,” Paul said at the beginning of a lengthy answer in which he likened the question to one about limiting freedom of speech for racists. “I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things freedom requires.”
The issue arose little more than 24 hours after the political novice swept to a landslide Republican primary victory, defeating a rival recruited by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and others who feared Paul’s brand of conservatism might make him unelectable in the fall.
The seat is currently held by retiring Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, and the party can ill afford to lose it if it is to seriously challenge Democratic control in the fall.
Paul, 47 and an eye surgeon, is making his first run for public office, and his emergence as a favorite of tea party activists has been one of the most striking developments of the early months of the midterm election campaign. In an appearance on primary night, he credited their support with powering him to his victory, and the first opinion poll since then shows him with a commanding lead over his Democratic rival, Jack Conway.
Conway, the Kentucky attorney general, criticized his rival’s comments on race, saying Paul has a “narrow political philosophy that has dangerous consequences for working families, veterans, students, the disabled and those without a voice in the halls of power.”