LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was the victim of a violent attack in 2017 when his neighbor slammed into him from behind outside his Kentucky home. Earlier that year, Paul took cover when a gunman opened fire while GOP members of Congress practiced for a charity baseball game.
Paul revived those traumatic events in his bid for reelection this year, with an incendiary social media video attacking his Democratic challenger, Charles Booker. The video, released Monday shortly before a Senate campaign forum he declined to take part in, says outright that Booker “doesn’t believe in civil discourse, only violence.” It accuses the Black former state lawmaker of associating with members of the “radical left” who condone and perpetuate violence.
Booker denounced the ad, saying it includes “dangerous and dishonest rhetoric.”
“His ad grossly lies about me and, in a very sinister way, attacks several Kentucky citizens by name,” Booker said Tuesday. “Neither I, nor my campaign, have ever endorsed violence against any political candidate. It is despicable for Rand Paul to even insinuate that. As an elected official and candidate, my family and I have received death threats — this is not something I take lightly because I understand the issue intimately.”
The video was the latest eyebrow-raising tactic in a campaign featuring unconventional politicians. Booker appeared with a noose around his neck in an online ad soon after the spring primary to draw attention to Paul’s stance on anti-lynching legislation.
Paul’s video doesn’t mention unrest from the far right or the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In the wake of the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, law enforcement officials across the country warned about an increase in threats and the potential for violent attacks on federal agents or buildings.
The video was released as a preemptive attack against Booker shortly before the Democratic challenger appeared at a campaign forum aired on statewide television. Paul, who is seeking a third term in November, was invited but did not participate in the program.
Paul’s campaign scoured through social media to make its video claims that Booker’s campaign has “embraced people who celebrate and glorify” violence against Paul. It says a Booker volunteer tweeted a “graphic doctored image” of Paul with a broken neck. And it claims a woman featured supporting Booker in a social media video has referred to Paul’s attacker as her hero.
The senator suffered broken ribs and later underwent lung surgery for injuries he says he sustained in the attack. The assailant was given a prison sentence and Paul was awarded more than $580,000 in damages and medical expenses in his lawsuit against the man.
Booker said Tuesday that to associate him with Paul’s “violent altercation with his neighbor from five years ago is desperate, ridiculous, wholly offensive and unacceptable.”
“Rand Paul has used racially charged dog whistles throughout this campaign to paint a violent picture of me, instead of having the backbone to face me and the people of Kentucky on the merits of our vision for this commonwealth,” Booker said.
The video also references 2019 remarks by a Black Lives Matter leader in Louisville that appeared to condone violence against Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
“Civil debate is an admired quality in a Republic but justifying, mocking, or celebrating violence, as documented in this video of Booker and his allies, should be rejected,” Paul said Monday.
During his Monday night appearance on Kentucky Educational Television, Booker accused Paul of “blowing the dog whistle” on public safety and policing issues. Paul’s campaign and his allies have tried to connect Booker with the “defund the police” movement.
“Rand Paul wants people to look at the color of my skin instead of my record,” Booker said.
Paul has frequently visited mostly Black neighborhoods during his Senate tenure, touting criminal justice reforms, anti-violence efforts and education initiatives.
When pressed during the KET program on whether he supports eliminating law enforcement budgets, Booker replied: “It doesn’t make sense to get rid of budgets for law enforcement or any government agency.”
Supporting “structural change,” he said, doesn’t equate to backing “any sort of abolishment.”
“When there’s a crisis, when someone’s in an emergency, we all want to call 911 and have someone in law enforcement come to our aid,” Booker said. “What we don’t need is that same agency we call to protect and serve us, kick in our door and shoot us in the dead of night.”
In 2020, Booker marched in protests sparked in part by the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman shot when police officers burst into her Louisville apartment during a narcotics investigation. They found no drugs. Booker ran for the Senate that year but narrowly lost in the Democratic primary.