WASHINGTON - Taking another unconventional stand, Rand Paul, the tea-party favorite who is Kentucky's Republican Senate nominee, criticized President Obama's handling of the gulf oil spill Friday as antibusiness and sounding "really un-American."
Paul's defense of oil company BP P.L.C. came during an interview in which he tried to explain his controversial earlier take on civil rights law, an issue that seemed to suddenly swamp his campaign after his runaway victory in Tuesday's GOP primary.
"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 told ABC's Good Morning America. "I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told CNN 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 offshore rig that exploded last month, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of gallons of oil.
Since his landslide victory over the GOP establishment's candidate, Trey Grayson, Paul has been scrambling to explain remarks suggesting businesses be allowed to deny service to minorities without fear of federal interference, even though he says he personally abhors discrimination.
On the oil spill, Paul, a libertarian, said he had heard nothing from BP indicating it wouldn't pay for the spill, which threatens devastating environmental damage along the Gulf of Mexico coast.
"And I think it's part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it's always got to be somebody's fault instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen," Paul said.
The Senate candidate also referred to a Kentucky coal-mine accident that killed two men, saying he had met with the families and he admired the coal miners' courage.
"We had a mining accident that was very tragic. . . . Then we come in and it's always someone's fault. Maybe sometimes accidents happen," he said.
Paul, 47, an eye doctor and political novice, is the son of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.
The younger Paul credited tea-party activists with powering him to the primary victory. The first opinion poll since then showed him with a wide lead over his Democratic rival, Jack Conway.
Paul's defense of BP, on top of his suggestion that businesses should have the right to turn away racial minorities, sent Democrats into attack mode while top Republicans pondered how to calm things down.
It's a delicate issue: In the primary, the party establishment, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, had spurned Paul in favor of Grayson.
Now, chastened GOP leaders are reaching out to Paul and his aides to try to nudge him toward greater campaign discipline, said three GOP operatives close to the situation.
There were signs Friday that he was getting the message. His campaign canceled his appearance Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, accusing reporters of being obsessed with the civil rights flap.
"They just want to keep beating this same dead horse," said campaign manager David Adams. "We're finished talking about that."