President Obama on Wednesday commented on the attack of a liberal activist in Kentucky this week, calling the incident "disturbing" and asking political candidates to promote a civil debate.
Even though the president condemned the incident, which occurred Monday outside the debate in Lexington between Democratic nominee Jack Conway and his Republican rival Rand Paul, Obama refused to blame Paul for the actions of his supporters.
"I think we can disagree vigorously without being disagreeable," he told a group of liberal bloggers during a meeting at the White House. "And what we saw on the video was an example of people’s passions just getting out of hand in ways that are disturbing."
Obama's comments demonstrate the extent to which the attack has become part of the narrative surrounding the contentious 2010 midterm season, fueled by anger over the president's policies and the sputtering economic recovery.
On Monday, MoveOn activist Lauren Valle, 23, approached the vehicle carrying Paul to the debate. Video showed several men pushing her away from the sports utility vehicle as it arrived. Separate video shows multiple men later grabbing her and forcing her to the ground. One of the men, a Paul volunteer named Tim Profitt, could be seen stomping twice on her head.
Both candidates issued statements on Tuesday condemning the incident, and Paul's campaign dismissed Profitt as Bourbon County campaign coordinator and banned him from future events.
But Conway's campaign on Wednesday accused Paul of responding inadequately to the incident and demanded his campaign return $2,500 in contributions it received from Profitt and a woman appearing to be his wife.
Obama did not place blame on Paul specifically, but asked that candidates on all sides foster a civil atmosphere on the campaign trail.
"In fairness, I don’t expect every candidate to be responsible for every single supporter’s actions," he said. "But I do think that all of us have an obligation to set a tone where we say the other side is — may be wrong but it’s not evil, because when you start going down that path of demonizing folks, then these kinds of incidents are more likely to occur."
Obama asked that during the final days of the campaign "all candidates out there are a little more careful about making sure that they’re framing the debate around issues," adding that "we argue, it gets contentious, but that there are certain lines we don’t cross."