(AP) - Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul took harsh digs at President Barack Obama while mining for votes in Kentucky coalfields Saturday, saying busybody regulators backed by the president are stifling the coal sector.
Paul vowed to challenge Obama "every step of the way" if elected in November, seeking to capitalize on a political environment where flocks of voters have never warmed to the Democratic president.
The Tea Party-backed Paul never mentioned his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, in his speech at a coal appreciation event in Knott County, instead reserving his attacks for Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and federal environmental regulators.
Paul claimed Obama "cares nothing about Kentucky and cares even less about Kentucky coal."
"We have a president who is forcing the EPA down our throats," Paul said. "Even without changing the rules, the EPA is stifling the permit process, and people (are) out of work here because of the president and his policies.
"With all due respect, Mr. President, you're wrong, and you need to stay out of Kentucky affairs. And you need to keep the EPA out of our affairs because we need jobs, and we're not going to get jobs with a busybody EPA that's in our way."
Paul made overtures to coal families by proclaiming himself a coal ally who would "defend your way of life." The Bowling Green eye doctor has come under attack from members of the United Mine Workers who recently said they were alarmed by Paul's suggestions in a magazine interview that elected officials in Washington shouldn't be setting coal mining rules.
After his speech, Paul said all levels of government have a role in regulating the coal industry, adding that his preference generally is for "more local over federal" oversight.
Paul, an advocate for more limited government, suggested the need for a broad review of coal regulations to determine what's working.
Conway, the state attorney general, has won the UMW's endorsement in the race to succeed Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, who is retiring after two terms.
Conway spokesman John Collins said the Democratic candidate would be a strong defender of the coal sector because it creates good-paying jobs, attracts industry and fosters low electricity rates.
"That's why he opposes any and all cap-and-trade legislation, which unfairly punishes coal states like Kentucky and raises utility rates," Collins said.
Paul has accused Conway of flip-flopping on the cap-and-trade energy plan, which would create economic incentives to limit heat-trapping gases from power plants, vehicles and other sources. Detractors, including Paul, claim the plan would punish the coal industry and raise electricity rates.
Meanwhile, Paul deflected questions about a recent GQ article describing an alleged prank during Paul's college days at Baylor University in Texas involving marijuana and worshipping an "Aqua Buddha."