LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul attacked Democratic opponent Jack Conway by linking him to President Barack Obama, who he called a "disaster" for the country, during a nationally televised debate Monday night.
Conway hit back by citing Paul's suggestions of imposing a $2,000 Medicare deductible on seniors and a national sales tax to replace the federal income tax.
Their final debate in a bitterly fought Kentucky campaign lacked the fireworks of a prior exchange when Paul angrily confronted Conway about a TV ad that included an anonymous accusation that he worshipped a god called "Aqua Buddha" during college and that he was a member of a secret campus society that mocked Christians.
With the election just a week away, the two rivals were questioned on a series of issues during the hourlong debate at the studios of Kentucky Educational Television.
Paul pressed his tea party-backed message of limited government and restrained spending, and said the health care and financial regulation overhauls pushed by Obama will stifle job creation at a time of high unemployment. He slammed the president's economic stimulus package and health care overhaul.
Paul, a Bowling Green eye doctor, railed against rising deficits under Obama's presidency, and tied Conway to the Democratic president who was rejected by Kentucky voters in 2008.
"You wanted President Obama," Paul told Conway. "He's a disaster for our country. He's bankrupting us."
Paul warned that the health care overhaul "is going to be worse than we can even imagine."
Conway, who supports the health care law, acknowledged it's not perfect but said he wants to fix it. He defended the landmark law for providing first-time coverage for some 654,000 Kentuckians, and said it will keep young adults on their parents' health plans longer.
Conway described himself as "a different type of Democrat," noting that he supports offering tax incentives to spur private-sector job growth.
In a debate that focused at times on the role of government oversight, the two also sparred over the financial overhaul law pushed by Obama.
Paul said the law is "very dangerous for our economy," and will punish banks in Kentucky with more layers of regulations even though the state's banks didn't have a role in the economic meltdown.
Conway said prudent oversight is needed to keep Wall Street from gambling with investors' money.
"Leaving them alone in the first place got us in this mess," he said.
Paul also criticized the economic stimulus passed early in Obama's first term, saying it added significantly to the nation's debt without spurring job growth.
"This election is about which agenda do you want," Paul said. "Do you want President Obama's agenda that believes in government as this mode of stimulus?"
Conway, the state's attorney general, accused of Paul of "running from the fact" that he said on several occasions that he supported a $2,000 Medicare deductible. Conway said seniors can't afford it.
Paul said he has maintained that a higher deductible would help fix the problem but is politically unfeasible. He said the government health care program should not be changed for current recipients, but didn't rule out changes for future generations to keep the program solvent.
"But there would be ways that many in the future, younger people, might have to pay higher deductibles, and you might even have to do means testing," he said.
Conway also accused Paul of flip flopping on the FairTax, a proposal that includes eliminating the federal income tax and replacing it with a 23 percent national sales tax.
Paul wrote in a statement to an anti-tax group that he supported the FairTax, but later seemed to back off, suggesting he only supports "a simpler tax code."
The candidates are on opposite sides of the abortion issue, which hadn't come up in the four previous debates.
Paul said he opposes abortion and would support a human life amendment to the Constitution. Conway said he believes abortion should be "as rare as we can make it" but also "safe and legal."
The two rivals are vying for the seat of 79-year-old Sen. Jim Bunning, who is retiring after two terms.
The candidates were greeted by the cheers and jeers of hundreds of supporters and detractors when they arrived at the KET studios for their fifth and final debate.