WASHINGTON (AP) _ For the second time in a week, a political novice whose U.S. Senate primary victory roiled the Republican establishment has made comments bound to make party leaders cringe and put Democrats on the offensive.
Rand Paul, who won the Kentucky primary with the help of the conservative tea party movement, criticized President Barack Obama for being too tough on oil company BP PLC in his handling of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,''' Paul said in an interview Friday, May 21 with ABC television. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.''
While Obama has received mixed reviews for his handling of the spill, there is no indication that the public sympathizes with BP or believes Obama has been too harsh on the company.
But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has been spearheading the Obama administration's efforts to deal with the spill, told CNN television on May 2: “Our job basically is to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum.''
Other Republicans have criticized the administration's handling of the oil spill, but few have been so vocal in defending BP, the company responsible for the deep well and offshore rig that exploded last month, killing 11 workers.
Paul's defense of the oil company came during an interview in which he tried to explain his controversial take on civil rights law, an issue that has overtaken his campaign. On Wednesday, he suggested businesses should be allowed to deny service to black people without fear of federal interference. On Friday, he said he wouldn't seek to repeal civil rights legislation.
The comments by Paul highlight the risks posed to the Republican Party by the tea party movement. The loose-knit movement, with its anti-Washington message, has energized the party's conservative base. But it could also leave the party fielding inexperienced candidates so far out of the political mainstream that they alienate independents whose votes often prove decisive.
Kentucky is dominated by Republicans, but Democrats hope Paul's primary win gives them a shot at capturing the seat.
Republicans are expected to pick up seats in the November congressional election, but it is unclear if they can win majorities in either chamber. A loss in Kentucky would make capturing the Senate extremely difficult.
But the first opinion poll since Tuesday's primary shows Paul with a commanding lead over his Democratic rival, Jack Conway.
Paul scored a landslide victory over Trey Grayson, the Republican establishment's candidate. Paul credited the tea party movement with powering him to his victory over Grayson.
Paul, an eye surgeon, is making his first run for public office. He is the son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Pictured above is Rand Paul.