ROGER ALFORD

Associated Press

FULTON, Ky. -- Republican Rand Paul said Wednesday he doesn't think his criticism of federal farm subsidies will hurt him in this fall's U.S. Senate election.

Paul told reporters Wednesday during a campaign stop in heavily agricultural western Kentucky that he feels an obligation to oppose deficit spending and to raise questions about waste in the subsidy program, which pumped nearly $246 million into the state last year.

"I can't really lie to people about the problems we have," he said. "I think we have enormous debt problems. And I think if you don't address all aspects of the budget and say what can be made smaller, what can we save money on, what can we downsize, if we don't ask that question, then I don't think you're a serious person about balancing the budget."

Paul and Democrat Jack Conway are running for the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Bunning, a 78-year-old Baseball Hall of Famer who opted not to seek a third term.

The two candidates differ sharply on the subsidy program. Paul has called for an end to paying farmers to not grow crops. Conway said the program is vital to Kentucky farmers and that he supports it.

Farmers are an important voting bloc in Kentucky, and more than 40,000 of them received federal subsidies last year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Paul spent Wednesday evening beneath the shade of trees in a rural church yard outside Fulton, glad-handing with some of the state's largest growers of corn, soybean and wheat. And the Bowling Green eye surgeon appears to have substantial support in the region, which traditionally gets behind Republican candidates.

"If there's waste out there, it has to be reined in," said Fulton County cattle farmer Kenneth Edmaiston, a Republican who said he intends to vote for Paul. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the subsidies, but I am against waste."

Mike Major, a Hickman farmer who raises some 4,000 acres of crops with his family, said no one can dispute Paul's premise that there's waste in the program.

"It's a government program," Major said. "There's waste in every government program."

Though Major, a Democrat, disagrees with Paul on the subsidy issue, he said he hasn't ruled out supporting him in the upcoming election. Major described himself as a conservative who favors limited government involvement in business, and that, he said, makes him a potential Paul supporter.

Paul is trying to garner support for his Senate bid in the region known as much for its support of conservative Republicans as it is for the expansive corn and soybean fields visible from virtually every rural road.

The son of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, the younger Paul said he is counting on western Kentucky to help put him over the top on Election Day. Paul said he needs to break even with Conway in the state's two largest cities and win in every other region of the state to be victorious.

Paul said he believes the state's farmers will take his side in the race because of his stands on issues of particular importance to conservative Kentuckians, including abortion. Paul opposes abortion. Conway does not, though he said the procedure should be rare.

"I think farmers are very conservative people," Paul said. "And I think that outweighs a lot of the other things."

Glenn Howell, who raises 2,700 acres of crops in Fulton County and receives subsidy payments, said he expects to vote for Paul. But he said he hopes Paul softens on his opposition to the subsidy program.

"We're caught between a rock and a hard place," said Howell, a Republican. "We've got to have the subsidies, right or wrong. We're trained to it after all these years."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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