LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul angrily accused Democratic rival Jack Conway of descending "into the gutter" with a TV ad questioning Paul's faith and demanded an apology during a Sunday night debate that turned personal.
Paul criticized the commercial during his opening statement and quoted Scripture to deflect the attack while calling himself a "pro-life Christian."
"Those who stoop to the level of attacking a man's religious beliefs to gain higher office, I believe that they should remember that it does not profit a man to gain the world if he loses his soul in the process," Paul said.
The candidates wrangled over health care, taxes and other issues, but the debate's defining exchange came in the opening minutes at the University of Louisville.
The ad is based on published reports from an anonymous woman who claims Paul was the member of a secret society when he attended Baylor University. Paul has dismissed the reports as "ridiculous."
A narrator in the ad repeats the claims from the woman, asking why Paul, while in college, tied her up and told her to worship an idol called "Aqua Buddha."
Conway, the state's attorney general, defended the attacks during their contentious exchange.
"Why did he freely join a group known for mocking, for making fun of people with faith?" Conway asked. "And secondly, when is it ever a good idea to tie up a woman and ask her to kneel before a false idol, your god, which you call Aqua Buddha?"
Paul said he was disheartened that the race had turned so personal.
"We have serious problems in our country ... and he's descended into the gutter to attack my Christian beliefs," said Paul, a Bowling Green eye doctor.
"Jack, you should be ashamed of yourself. You should apologize. Have you no decency? Have you no shame?"
Paul and his family attend a Presbyterian church in Bowling Green, where his wife serves as a deacon.
Paul and Conway are competing for the job of retiring GOP Sen. Jim Bunning.