Steele and Kaine stand by Paul, Blumenthal despite controversies

The heads of the Democratic and Republican parties on Sunday criticized controversial comments made by two Senate hopefuls in their own parties, but each stood behind their candidacies.

Tea Party-backed Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul (R) received criticism for questioning the legality of the Civil Rights Act just one day after he won a primary race over GOP establishment favorite Trey Grayson in the race for Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R) open seat.

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele said that Paul’s comments were “misplaced” but refused to condemn the candidate.

"I think his philosophy is misplaced in these times. I don't think that's where the country is right now,” Steele said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I think in this case, Rand Paul's philosophy got in the way of reality."

Democrats have pounced on Paul’s comments, saying that they show that Paul is far outside the mainstream and unfit to serve in the Senate. They argue that his stringent libertarian, anti-government views, which helped him gain Tea Party support, allow for such extreme positions.

Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tim Kaine said on “Fox News Sunday” that "I think these statements were clearly wrong. They reflect lifelong views and I hope the Republican Party will step up on those statements and say they're wrong."

On ABC, Kaine said Paul’s comments “absolutely” make the seat more competitive.

Steele – the first African-American party chairman in the Republicans’ history – said that courts litigated the rights of minorities with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s. But he also accepted Paul’s clarification, which he gave this week, in which he said that he supports the Civil Rights Act.

But the chairman would not go as far as to condemn Paul in a later appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” Asked if he could condemn him, he said, “I can't do that. You have a belief; I can't debate [it].”

He said on Fox that what really matters is how he performs if he serves in Congress and reaffirmed that the GOP supports the Civil Rights Act, as does Paul.

Steele said on ABC’s “This Week” that he is not “comfortable” with Kentucky GOP candidate Rand Paul’s views on civil rights but insisted that the party as a whole is deeply committed to the issue.

“I am not comfortable with a lot of things, but it does not matter what I am comfortable with or not comfortable with,” Steele said. “I don’t vote in that election. The people of Kentucky will.”

Pressed by host Jake Tapper about his views on Paul’s comments, Steele replied, “I just said I wasn’t comfortable with it.”

But Steele also said that he has spoken with Paul about the matter.

“I have talked to Rand. He and I are on the same page. Our party stands foursquare about moving forward on civil rights, looking at the civil rights issues of the day: education, for example,” Steele said.

“There are many other fights that loom ahead for us in this area. Rand Paul as a United States senator will be foursquare with the Republican Party, in lockstep with moving forward on civil rights, not looking backwards,” he said.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), who was an early backer of Paul, refused to criticize him.

"I think that Rand Paul is right in his clarifications,” she said on Fox. “But what he means in his interpretation of the impact of the Civil Rights Act, he's right on when he said he's a supporter of civil rights.”

Palin blamed Paul’s trouble on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, on whose show Paul made his statements, saying the media has been looking for a “gotcha” moment for Paul.

"He would have marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., he said,” she added.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who like Palin is weighing a 2012 presidential bid, said that Paul’s comments were “unfortunate” while appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

But Paul was not the only Senate candidate who received scrutiny on the Sunday shows.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) also landed in trouble this week when the New York Times reported that he repeatedly misstated his service record during the Vietnam War.

Blumenthal, who was the front-runner in the race to replace Sen. Chris Dodd (D), served in the Marine Reserves in Washington, D.C., after receiving several deferments, but said that he served “in” Vietnam and told stories about soldiers coming back from overseas as if he was there.

“The statements were wrong,” Kaine said on Fox, adding that “on many occasions” he represented his service correctly.

"Because he stated so many times the accurate version, I think in the middle of his speech he got carried away or went away from the text and clearly overstated or exaggerated and it’s important that he correct that,” he added. "But people who have covered him for years have pointed out numerous instances of him stating accurately his military service."

Republicans have used Blumenthal’s words against him, saying that it was a contrived effort to boost his stature among voters.

Steele went further than Kaine, saying that Blumenthal “knowingly” misrepresented his service record.

"The statements were knowingly wrong,” he said on Fox. “I think it speaks to the concern of voters around the country about the people who want to represent them."

Ben Geman contributed to this report