It's come to this. In Kentucky, where Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul is leading Democrat Jack Conway 47% to 41.7% in the RCP average of polls, the Conway campaign has decided to release an ad painting Rand Paul as anti-Christian:

The script:

JACK CONWAY: I'm Jack Conway. I approve this message.

NARRATOR: Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the Holy Bible 'a hoax', that was banned for mocking Christianity and Christ?

Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up, tell her to make her bow down before a false idol and say his god was Aqua Buddha?

Why does Rand Paul now want to end all federal faith based initiatives and even end the deduction for religious charities?

Why are there so many questions about Rand Paul?

Liberal blogger Josh Marshall writes that the ad "registered for me as somewhere between a hokey Tea Party ad and an SNL spoof." But: "To be clear, I'm not saying it won't, or couldn't, be effective." Can this ad really be effective?

The worshipping a "false idol" attack is based on a college prank, stupidly and falsely reported as a "kidnapping." “I went along because they were my friends," Paul's "victim" told the Post's Greg Sargent this summer. The charge that Paul was a member of a "secret society" that mocked the Bible is again a reference to a group he was a member of in college. One parody in a newsletter run by the group goofed that the Bible was in fact written by an 83 year-old Californian, who was inspired by Faulkner.

Any time a campaign begins attacking its opponent's college behavior--to say nothing of the opponent's religion--isn't it a sign that the campaign is in its death throes? The Conway attack on Paul smacks of the Hillary Clinton campaign's mentioning Obama's cocaine use. A sure sign that the next GOP presidential candidate is going to lose is that if, on October 16, 2012, the candidate cuts an ad that questions Obama's Christian faith because he attended socialist conferences in college and darkly intones about what really went on during Obama's 1981 trip to Pakistan. Pray that doesn't happen, but surely, if it did, TPM's Josh Marshall would brush off the ad as a just a cross between "a hokey Tea Party ad and an SNL spoof," right?

Rand Paul's campaign manager Jesse Benton isn't taking the attack on Paul's Christianity so lightly. He responds with this statement:

“Today, Jack Conway stepped way over the line and released a shameful and despicable ad that questions Dr. Paul’s Christian faith. Dr. Paul and Jack Conway may disagree on many issues and the best direction for our country, but personal attacks on Rand’s faith are way out of bounds.

“Rather than address the pressing issues of our time, Jack Conway is shameless doing what so many desperate politicians do at the last minute - resorting to revolting personal smears.

“Kentuckians are sick of gutter politics, and Conway should be ashamed. A candidate who would use such a despicable and desperate attack clearly doesn’t understand the values of the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

The Paul campaign seems to think, perhaps rightly so, that addressing the specific charges in the ad is beneath them. But, just in case you're wondering, two years ago Paul came out against federally-funded faith-based initiatives, and his reasoning is not uncommon among Christians. Paul said in June 2008:

"One, I think the money sort of pollutes the mission of a purely Christian organization, or Muslim or whatever organization it is. And it obscures the church-state separation that there really ought to be. We shouldn’t have tax money flowing into churches, and we should let churches do charity work, and that’s wonderful, but they shouldn’t be corrupted with government money."

And, according to a Conway campaign background document, the charge about getting rid of the deduction for churches is based on Paul's support for the Fair Tax, which would eliminate the income tax, and therefore eliminate income tax deductions. The Fair Tax has also been supported by Marco ("God Is Real") Rubio and none other than ... Mike Huckabee.

More important than rebutting the specific falsehoods in Conway's ad is the broader point that the ad is a smear against Rand Paul's religion. Attacking a candidate's faith is ugly when Republicans do it. And it's ugly when Democrats do it. Conway should be ashamed.

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