In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul has spent the past week defending himself against an anonymous accusation that he said during college his god was "Aqua Buddha." And in Delaware, Republican Christine O'Donnell is still being bothered by a comment she made more than a decade ago about having been involved in witchcraft.
With less than two weeks remaining before the Nov. 2 election, tea party candidates are trying to get voter attention back on their top issues: cutting the size of federal government and reducing taxes to spur the economy and job growth.
University of Kentucky political scientist Donald Gross said he has been "surprised by the staying power" of the side issues.
"The polls are pretty clear, the economy is what people are worried about," Gross said.
Paul, who attends a Presbyterian church in Bowling Green where his wife is a deacon, faced another day of questions on Thursday about an ad being aired by his Democratic opponent, Kentucky attorney general Jack Conway.
"I'm not a real public person about talking about my faith," he said, though his campaign did air a response ad in which a narrator says he keeps Christ in his heart.
The Conway ad is based on published reports that Paul, during his college years, was a member of a secret society that called the Bible a hoax, that he tried to force a woman to worship an idol, and that he said his god was "Aqua Buddha." Those claims by an anonymous woman were made in articles in GQ Magazine and The Washington Post earlier this year.
Paul denied the accusations Thursday, saying "they are ridiculous, absurd and untrue."
Conway said Thursday his ad raises important questions about Paul's values.
"Obviously, we all have things, whether it's in college or it's in our adult life or whatever that you don't necessarily want to publicize," Conway said.
"Some of the stuff here is troubling enough that he just needs to answer the questions."
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Amber Marchand criticized the Conway campaign's continued use of the ad in a statement on Thursday.
"Instead of explaining his support for President Obama's out-of-control spending policies and costly health care bill, Conway is engaged in gutter politics lobbing empty and desperate attacks against Dr. Rand Paul's character," Marchand said.
University of Louisville political scientist Laura Rhodebeck said such issues are important to voters who base their decisions on character.
"Not every voter is an issue voter," Rhodebeck said.
O'Donnell's comments about witchcraft were made during a taping of comedian Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" TV show in 1998. They have remained an issue in her race, though her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, has not made an issue of it.
"I dabbled into witchcraft. I never joined a coven," she said on the video, a clip of which hit the Internet just days after she stunned longtime congressman Mike Castle in the GOP primary in her third bid for Senate.
O'Donnell was quizzed about the issue during an interview that aired Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America." She laughed about the matter when she was asked what costume she would wear for Halloween.
"I certainly am not going to be a witch," she said.