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Democrat Charles Booker misleads with racially charged attack ad against Rand Paul

Image source: Video screenshot

A Democrat running for Congress against Sen. Rand Paul puts a noose over his head and misleadingly suggests the Kentucky Republican opposed efforts to criminalize lynching in a campaign ad that's sure to be controversial.

Charles Booker, a former state lawmaker who is the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, released a video Wednesday that attacks Paul for opposing an anti-lynching bill in 2020. The ad does not mention why Paul opposed the bill, or that he co-sponsored a new bipartisan version of that legislation this year that went on to become law.

The ad, titled, "The Pain of Our Past," contains a content warning for "strong imagery." It features Booker, who is black, narrating over a historic lynching photo and images of a noose hanging from a tree.

"The pain of our past persists to this day," Booker says in the video. "In Kentucky, like many states throughout the South, lynching was a tool of terror. It was used to kill hopes for freedom.

"It was used to kill my ancestors," he says, appearing onscreen with a noose fitted over his neck. "Now, in a historic victory for our commonwealth, I have become the first Black Kentuckian to receive the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate."

"My opponent?" he continues, as an image of Paul grimacing appears. "The very person who compared expanded health care to slavery. The person who said he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act. The person who single-handedly blocked an anti-lynching act from being federal law."

"The choice couldn't be clearer," Booker states as the camera shifts back to him. "Do we move forward together? Or do we let politicians like Rand Paul forever hold us back and drive us apart?

"In November, we will choose healing," he declares, lifting the noose off his neck. "We will choose Kentucky."

Booker posted the ad to his social media pages early Wednesday morning and it has since received over 300,000 views on Twitter.

His attack ad makes several references to controversial comments Paul has made during his two-term career in the U.S. Senate, but it does not offer context for what Paul said and misleads viewers.

Booker's charge that Paul would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, is based on comments Paul made in a 2010 interview with the Louisville Courier Journal before he was elected to the Senate. The Journal had asked Paul, a libertarian Republican, whether he would have voted for the landmark civil rights bill, which outlawed segregation in public spaces and in private business establishments, as well as banning racial discrimination in employment.

Paul said that he opposes racial discrimination, but suggested that he disfavors government interfering with the freedom of private businesses.

"I abhor racism. I think it's a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant, but at the same time I do believe in private ownership," Paul said in 2010. "But I think there should be absolutely no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that's most of what the Civil Rights Act was about, to my mind."

Democrats seized on Paul's comments and accused him of opposing civil rights legislation, but Paul has since repeatedly said he supports the Civil Rights Act and detests racism.

Booker's ad also accuses Paul of comparing "expanded health care to slavery," a charge that the the Louisville Courier Journal believes refers to statements he made on the Senate floor in 2011, in a speech opposing Obamacare.

"With regard to the idea whether or not you have a right to health care, you have to realize what that implies. I am a physician. You have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery," Paul said at the time.

"You are going to enslave not only me but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants, the nurses," he added.

As for the claim that Paul opposed anti-lynching legislation, while it is true that in 2020 he held up a bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime, that's not the full story. Paul said at the time that lynching should be "universally condemned," but objected to language in the bill that included non-fatal injuries as lynching.

"If you're gonna call something an anti-lynching bill, but you're gonna have a new conspiracy charge for someone who has minor bruising, we don't think that's appropriate. And someone has to read these bills and make sure they do what they say they're going to do rather than it be just a big PR effort, and then everybody gets up in arms and wants to beat up anybody who wants to read the bill, and actually make the bill stronger," he told reporters.

He offered an amendment to the bill that would have added a "serious bodily injury standard," but the Senate did not adopt his proposal.

In 2022, Paul co-sponsored an updated version of that bill with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) that addressed his concerns and passed with bipartisan support.

"It wasn't a popular stand to slow this bill down, but I wanted to do it because, you know, I thought it was the right thing to do," he told the Courier Journal in a March 1 interview. "And in the end, I think the compromise language will hopefully keep us from incarcerating somebody for some kind of crime that's not lynching.

"We just wanted to make sure that the punishment was proportional to the crime, and I guess it's just good news that it finally worked out," he said.

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