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Rand Paul and the 'Aqua Buddha': why Election 2010 is turning nasty

What is the 'Aqua Buddha' and why did it turn a Senate debate between Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky into the 'nastiest' of Election 2010'? It's classic attack politics.

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New campaign finance rules have opened the door to more spending by third parties, ratcheting up the tension in various races. Nearly 90 percent of ads paid for by third parties are attack ads, the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

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Moreover, with twice as many competitive House races as usual – and Democrats increasingly desperate as polls show potentially huge losses from them on Nov. 2 – the tone of the election is turning nastier. Attack ads, after all, often work.

"Folks like to complain about negativity," Erika Fowler, an assistant professor of government and director of Wesleyan University's Media Project, told AP. "That said, we do tend to see movement [in the polls] in places where there is negativity."

'Have you no shame?'

During the Kentucky debate, Conway asked the same questions, at point saying, “When is it ever a good idea to tie up a woman and ask her to kneel before a false idol called Aqua Buddha?"

For his part, Paul shot back at Conway, accusing him of digging up decades-old charges from blogs rather than debating him on today’s issues.

“You know how we know you’re lying?” he asked Conway. “You’re lips are moving.”

At another point, he lashed out, “Jack, you should be ashamed of yourself. Have you no decency? Have you no shame?"

Paul describes himself as a pro-life Christian, and the ads contain serious charges for the Bible Belt voters he’s trying to appeal to. They’ve also been excoriated by many liberal commentators, who see them as below-the-belt attacks that – even if the Aqua Buddha story is true – likely exaggerates the importance of an irreverent college phase.

A few defenders, meanwhile, say that Conway is simply using the material available to him and commend him for “playing hardball.”

At this point, though it’s a close race, Paul continues to enjoy a solid lead over Conway. The most recent Rasmussen Poll has him up 11 points, though other polls have showed a narrower race.

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