Iowa GOP extends warm reception to Paul, if not his openness to immigration reform

Paul says Iowa visit doesn't signal 2016 candidacy, but effort to build GOP

DES MOINES – Sen. Rand Paul won a standing ovation for declaring Hillary Clinton unfit for higher office, but a full house at an Iowa GOP fundraiser was quiet when he called for immigration reform and outreach to Latinos and African Americans.

Otherwise, it was a noisy, enthusiastic, sometimes raucous crowd Friday night at the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual Lincoln Dinner at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids.

The crowd showed more enthusiasm for Sen. Chuck Grassley, who pledged to focus his energies on a “once-in-a generation” opportunity to elect a fellow Republican to the U.S. Senate, and 4th District Rep, Steve King, who passed on that challenge, than for the Kentuckian who is considering a run for the White House in 2016.

Grassley said his main goal – “and hopefully yours” – over next 18 months will be to capitalize on the party’s “historic opportunity to double-down” by electing a Republican to succeed liberal Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin, who is retiring.

King explained he’s not running for the Senate in order to concentrate on stopping immigration reform and repealing ObamaCare, priorities popular with his audience.

“I cannot take myself out of the arena of the House of Representatives for the next 18 months (for) the prospect of, perhaps, stepping out on the floor of the US Senate,” King said. “I couldn’t take time out on that to campaign.”

When it was his turn, Paul conceded “we may not all agree” on immigration, but said, acknowledging the risk of offending his audience, “there’s a chance I could vote for the bill” under consideration in the Senate.

“If you don’t fix it, then we’ll have another 10 million illegal immigrants in another 10 years,” he said.

As he did earlier in the day, Paul spoke of the need to growth the Republican Party. He met with ministers and about three dozen Republicans clustered around a dessert buffet at Belinda and Dan Gees’ rural Cedar Rapids home Friday afternoon.

The GOP must grow beyond its image as a party of whites, big business and rich people to “look more like the rest of America.”

“We need to figure out how were not only the party of the middle class, but how we’re the party of the people who is unemployed, the person who is on public assistance, the person who is struggling,” Paul advised. “They’re not bad people. A lot of the, some of them have been in my family. They’re just trying to get ahead.”

“We need to express something different that attracts people to our party,” he said.

And he danced around the issue of whether he’s running for president in 2016. He campaigned for his father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas in the run-up to the 2012 Iowa caucuses and the Lincoln Dinner was the second Iowa GOP event he’s headlined since being elected in 2010. Paul acknowledged no politician comes to Iowa by mistake, however, it doesn’t automatically signal presidential ambitions.

“It’s how you have a bigger voice nationally, to come to Iowa, a place where political leaders come to try to talk about issues they want to resonate nationally,” Paul explained.

GOP State Chairman A.J. Spiker doesn’t expect it will be Paul’s last visit.

“We appreciate you coming,” he said, “and I’m sure we’ll see more of you in the future.”

Paul also will speak at a Saturday morning Johnson County GOP breakfast at the North Liberty Community Center. Doors open at 7:30 a.m.

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