“I highly doubt there are five people here who went to see Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul,” said Kenneth Derrick.
But Derrick, a Winthrop student, ensured there was at least one. He was one of about 200 people who filled the old American Legion hall in Rock Hill for a visit from the Kentucky senator who picked up a prominent local endorsement for his White House bid during Wednesday’s visit.
Derrick was one of 3,000 who also attended a Sept. 12 rally at Winthrop for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democrat and avowed socialist who is probably the polar opposite of the libertarian-leaning Paul – and Derrick, wearing a “Rand” sticker on his jacket, was quick to point out he doesn’t plan to vote for Sanders.
“Rand is pretty much the opposite of Bernie Sanders,” he said.
But the average Republican voter likely wouldn’t go to a Sanders campaign rally, and the theme among those at the Legion hall was that they were not average Republican voters.
“I’m not a Republican, I’m an independent,” said Ed Green. “There are maybe half a dozen Republicans I could see myself voting for, but certain others I could not,” saying they aren’t conservative enough in his eyes.
That sentiment is representative of the kids of support Paul has garnered his campaign for the White House. When U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land gave Paul his endorsement on Wednesday, he noted that Paul speaks to people whom other campaigns have ignored.
“There are people here I’ve never seen before,” Mulvaney said. “They may not even know they were Republicans.”
When he looked for a candidate he could support for president, Mulvaney said he wanted someone who could do that kind of outreach on behalf of the GOP to non-traditional Republican voters.
“You want someone who can explain things,” he said.
In his own remarks, Paul emphasized that he’s spoken at historically black colleges and addressed the Urban League, emphasizing criminal justice reform as a way to reach minority voters. He’s also spoken to students at the liberal bastion of the University of California at Berkeley.
“And I said the same thing at Liberty University as I did at Cal Berkeley,” he said. “That you have a right to be left alone.”
That messages resonates with Derrick, who also identifies as an independent. His main concern is overreach by the federal government, especially in the form of the massive digital surveillance program launched by the National Security Agency, which Paul has opposed in the Senate.
“I can’t stand the NSA,” Derrick said. “As president, Rand Paul would put a stop to that.”
Mariya Green, Ed Green’s wife, said she was interested to hear what Paul had to say about legalizing marijuana – a subject that didn’t come up during the Rock Hill visit. But Green, a native of Ukraine, also said she wants to see a more active American response to Russian intervention in her country’s civil war, something she’s unlikely to hear from Paul, who has taken a non-interventionist stance on foreign policy.
“I’ve seen America not react strong enough to (Vladimir) Putin,” she said, comparing the Russian president’s aggressive actions to the rise of Hitler. “I think that’s wrong, unless they want the war to come here.”
When Paul did address foreign affairs at the Legion hall, it was to take a swipe at his potential Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, calling the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the biggest scandal of the Obama administration.
“I’ve asked (Clinton) if she read the (security) cables from Benghazi, and she had a haughty look like it was somebody else’s duty, and she said ‘no,’” Paul said.
That “dereliction of duty” should “forever exclude her from being president,” Paul said to applause.
At least on that issue, Paul did sound a little more like the rest of the Republican field.