CEDAR RAPIDS — Rand Paul says he doesn’t know if he’s running for president.
After a three-day, 700-plus mile tour of Iowa that included 10 appearances, numerous interviews and endorsements of Republican candidates, he didn’t seem to leave much doubt.
The Iowa visit doesn’t mean he’s running for president, Paul cautioned.
“No matter what my future plans are, obviously, if you want to draw attention to either how you grow the GOP, how you grow the national party, or how we would win elections nationally, you come to Iowa and people pay attention,” Paul said.
An indication of how convinced people are that the first-term senator from Kentucky is running was the national and international media that followed him as well as the steady stream of critiques and criticisms from both the left and right.
Paul spent much of his time talking about how to grow the Republican Party beyond what he called its “traditional constituencies.”
“We need more of the African American vote, more Hispanic vote, we need more youth vote, we need more worker vote,” he told audiences of mostly middle-age and older whites.
Paul has been making an effort to reach those blocs. He’s gone to predominately black Howard University, Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley and meets with the NAACP and the Urban League — “segments that we haven’t been trying hard enough with.”
Showing up “will help a bit,” Paul said, “but you have to have something to say.”
Paul, 51, an ophthalmologist by training, thinks he has something to say to those groups.
From the back seat of an SUV as he traveled from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City, his legs crossed to show off faded bluejeans and worn cowboy boots, Paul talked about how the criminal justice and education systems have “disproportionately disadvantaged racial minorities” and there has been a “racial outcome to the war on drugs — and I’m going to end that.”
Another kind of reform he favors puts him at odds with some segments of the GOP and that’s immigration reform.
Paul went so far as to say he could vote for immigration reform that includes President Barack Obama’s deferred deportation policy for illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children if — and he includes this caveat in nearly every sentence on the subject — the borders are secured.
“If immigration reform doesn’t secure the border, if you accommodate people who broke law, but don’t secure the border, more people will come,” he said. “It will be a beacon that we don’t care, so come to America.”
Republicans, he continued, need to show that they welcome legal immigration.
“I can even be for something that finds a place for some of those who came here illegally, but not until the border is entirely secure,” he said. “You can’t have reform if forgiveness precedes border security.”
Although Paul sounds many of the same libertarian themes as his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP presidential nomination, he’s not carrying on his father’s campaign.
Ron Paul, he said, had the support of between 10 percent and 20 percent of the Republican Party and there’s some overlap among their supporters.
“That gives a base of support for us to begin with, but this election has to be about me and a bigger vision for the party and has to include more votes, frankly,” Paul said. “We’re looking at building a coalition big enough and broad enough to win.”
Paul’s confident his message of smaller government, less regulation, more freedom, the defense of privacy and less heavy-handed involvement in world affairs will resonate beyond traditional GOP voters and be his strength should he decide to run.
“The libertarian flare to Republican policy, most of that appeals beyond the party,” he said.
And his weakness?
“There’s only good stuff. Do you think I know any bad stuff about myself?” he said with a grin. “It’s all good stuff.”
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