Updated 4:10 p.m. Eastern
Now that the Tea Party-backed, the media and his Democratic opponent are pouncing on his extreme libertarian views -- particularly with respect to his position on racism in private businesses and whether he would have supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In an interview on NPR yesterday, host Robert Siegel asked Paul, the son of libertarian hero and former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), whether the Civil Rights Act went too far. Seigel noted that Paul has said in the past that the Americans with Disabilities Act was an overreach of the federal government.
"What I've always said is that I'm opposed to institutional racism, and I would've, had I've been alive at the time, I think, had the courage to march with Martin Luther King to overturn institutional racism, and I see no place in our society for institutional racism," Paul said.
However, he added:
"I think a lot of things could be handled locally. For example, I think that we should try to do everything we can to allow for people with disabilities and handicaps. You know, we do it in our office with wheelchair ramps and things like that. I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who's handicapped, it might be reasonable to let him have an office on the first floor rather than the government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator. And I think when you get to the solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having a federal government make those decisions."
Later on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" yesterday evening, Paul was pressed on the specific question of whether he thinks the government should prohibit private businesses from discriminating on the basis of race -- he refused to give a straight answer.
"Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent?" Paul asked. "Should we limit racists from speaking? I don't want to be associated with those people, but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way, in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that's one of the things that freedom requires... that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn't mean we approve of it."
Paul's views on the issue first came under scrutiny last month during an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal.
"I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I'm all in favor of that," he said. "I don't like the idea of teling private business owners -- I abhor racism... I do believe in private ownership."
The Courier-Journal in an editorial said that Paul's remarks were "repulsive" and declared that it could not endorse either Republican in the Senate primary.
Paul's primary opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson,the primary campaign, though that clearly did not deter enough voters from supporting Paul. Now that Paul is in a broader campaign, his Democratic opponent, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, is using the same strategy.
"These are not the views of mainstream Kentuckians," Conway said about Paul's beliefs in an interview with Talking Points Memo.
UPDATE: Paul put out a statement clarifying his support for the Civil Rights Act -- though not addressing specifically whether he believes it should apply to private businesses.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs addressed the issue today, echoing the sentiment from Paul's statement that there's no need to revisit the legitimacy of the Civil Rights Act.
"I think the issues that many fought for in the 50's and 60's were settled a long time ago in landmark legislation, and discussions about whether or not you support those shouldn't have a place in our political dialogue in 2010," Gibbs told reporters.
Below is Paul's full statement:
"I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person. I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation. Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
"Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws."
"As I have said in previous statements, sections of the Civil Rights Act were debated on Constitutional grounds when the legislation was passed. Those issues have been settled by federal courts in the intervening years."
"My opponent's statement on MSNBC Wednesday that I favor repeal of the Civil Rights Act was irresponsible and knowingly false. I hope he will correct the record and retract his claims."
"The issue of civil rights is one with a tortured history in this country. We have made great strides, but there is still work to be done to ensure the great promise of Liberty is granted to all Americans."
"This much is clear: The federal government has far overreached in its power grabs. Just look at the recent national healthcare schemes, which my opponent supports. The federal government, for the first time ever, is mandating that individuals purchase a product. The federal government is out of control, and those who love liberty and value individual and state's rights must stand up to it."
"These attacks prove one thing for certain: the liberal establishment is desperate to keep leaders like me out of office, and we are sure to hear more wild, dishonest smears during this campaign."