WASHINGTON – Even as national Republican officials try to limit damage from Rand Paul’s unorthodox remarks, the Kentucky Senate nominee Friday defended the oil company blamed for the Gulf oil spill.

Those comments, on top of Paul’s earlier suggestion that businesses should have the right to turn away minorities, sent Democrats into full attack mode while top Republicans pondered how to calm things down.

Paul, a tea party-backed eye surgeon, walloped Trey Grayson, the hand-picked choice of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in Tuesday’s primary. Now, chastened GOP leaders are dealing with a novice who has voiced his robust libertarian views in a series of interviews that have caused political pros to wince.

A Washington-based Republican official, who has spoken with Paul’s campaign advisers, said the harsh national reaction to the nominee’s MSNBC interview Wednesday “was like a wake-up call” to his inner circle.

“They know they messed up” by allowing liberal show host Rachel Maddow to draw out Paul’s thoughts on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the official said, speaking only on background to avoid antagonizing Paul and his supporters.

Paul told Maddow he abhors racial discrimination, but also suggested the U.S. government shouldn’t have the power to force restaurants to admit racial minorities against their will.

There were signs late Friday that Paul was getting the message. His campaign canceled his scheduled appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” accusing reporters of being obsessed with the civil rights flap.

On Friday, Paul decried President Obama’s handling of the Gulf oil spill.

“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’” he said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told CNN on May 2: “Our job basically is to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum.”

Other Republicans have criticized the government’s handling of the oil spill. But few have so vocally defended BP, the company responsible for the well and rig that exploded in April, killing 11 workers and spewing millions of gallons of oil.

Paul said BP has agreed to pay the costs of the cleanup and damage. “I think it’s part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it’s always got to be somebody’s fault instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen,” he told ABC.

Democratic groups, meanwhile, are issuing streams of Paul-bashing video clips, e-mails and statements. Paul is not just a Kentucky phenomenon, they contend, taunting GOP senators in Gulf coast states to say whether they agree with his comments about BP.

Citing a Kentucky poll showing Paul with a big lead over Democratic Senate nominee Jack Conway, several GOP officials said there’s sufficient time to bring more discipline to the newcomer’s campaign. A key step will occur today, when McConnell, Paul and other state GOP officials meet privately and in public at a long-scheduled post-election “unity” event in Frankfort.