WASHINGTON In public, Senate candidate Rand Paul's Republican colleagues have tried to contextualize his controversial comments about anti-discrimination laws and the Obama administration's handling of the Gulf Coast oil spill, but privately they bemoan the political newcomer's gaffes and wish he'd focus less on the national media spotlight and more on Kentucky and the economy.
"In any campaign there's going to be a few bumps," said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Paul didn't return calls requesting comment.
In an indication that he was heeding advice to limit his national exposure, Betsy Fischer, the executive producer of NBC's "Meet the Press," Tweeted late Friday afternoon that Paul said he was having "a tough week" and was trying to cancel his scheduled appearance on the show this Sunday. According to Fischer, such cancellations are rare, and only Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia have ever nixed planned appearances.
Paul's problems began in an interview Wednesday night on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" in which he told the liberal host that, based on his belief in limited government, private businesses shouldn't be forced to abide by civil rights laws. After the uproar Thursday, Paul issued a statement saying that he abhors discrimination, backs the 1964 Civil Rights Act and wouldn't support its repeal.
In an appearance Friday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America," Paul called President Barack Obama's handling of the oil spill anti-business and "really un-American," and said of the oil spill, which killed 11 people, and a mining accident last month in Kentucky that killed two miners, "Maybe sometimes accidents happen."
On the eve of a post-election Republican "unity" rally in the state, Kentucky politicos are watching anxiously to see what, if anything, Paul's handling of this very early campaign crisis says about his performance in the general election.