Rand Paul warned the crowd at a York County Republican gathering Friday that minority rights in America are worth defending – even for them.
“Before you say, ‘I’m not a minority,’ you could be a minority if you’re an evangelical Christian,” Paul said. “You can be a minority if you’re Jewish. You can be a minority if you teach your kids at home. You can be a minority because of the color of your skin or the shade of your ideology.”
It was part of a pitch that Paul, the junior U.S. senator from Kentucky, hopes will set him apart from the rest of the GOP field running for president. His message: If Republicans want to regain the White House in 2016, expand the party’s voter base and pick up states that traditionally vote Democratic, they need to be seen as the party of “the entire Bill of Rights.”
“All the amendments,” he said. “We’re doing a good job on the Second (gun rights), but I think we’ve neglected the Fourth (unreasonable search and seizure) and the Sixth (speedy trial).”
Paul spoke for about 20 minutes to the lunchtime gathering in Rock Hill’s Palmetto Room – a York County Republican Party fundraiser, followed by a book-signing for Paul’s latest tome, “Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America.” Then it was off to an afternoon event at that favorite S.C. hangout of presidential candidates, The Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg.
But in that short period of time, Paul covered a wide range of topics that reflects the candidate’s focus on issues at the libertarian end of the conservative spectrum.
After some quick glad-handing, Paul launched into a discussion of National Security Agency surveillance and the Patriot Act. Last week, Paul spearheaded a filibuster of an effort in the Senate to renew the controversial post-9/11 law, including a portion that the NSA has argued allows it to collect Americans’ telephone and Internet data in bulk.
“Why is that such a big deal?” Paul asked. “A couple of Stanford students used an app on a phone to measure phone call duration, ‘metadata.’”
From following 500 people, Paul said, the students found they could correctly identify a person’s religion 85 percent of the time, what doctors they saw 100 percent of the time, and successfully guess any diseases they might suffer from between 70 and 80 percent of the time.
Such information “is none of the government’s business,” Paul said.
In a one-on-one interview with The Herald after the event, the senator said he would continue his efforts to derail renewal of the Patriot Act in the Senate before a Sunday night deadline – a stance that has put him at odds with the Obama administration and some senators in his own party.
“I think it’s illegal,” he said. “The Second (Circuit Court of) Appeals has ruled with me, and the president’s own privacy commission has said it’s not adding anything of value.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to stop it.”
Paul also expressed his desire to expand the GOP’s support beyond its traditional base, reaching out to younger and minority voters who have “never belonged to the Republican Party.” He tied concerns about the NSA to police practices that have angered minority communities, like stop-and-frisk and civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize a suspect’s property based on the suspicion of a crime.
“When you turn on the TV and see this anger in our big cities, it’s because people are unhappy with stuff like this,” he said. “If they walk down the street and the government takes their stuff without due process.”
Paul told The Herald he wants that kind of outreach to be a major part of his campaign.
“I’ve talked for years about criminal justice reform, about how the way we apply our laws is often unfair to minorities, about equal opportunities as far as jobs go,” he said. “I’ve offered a tax plan that will reduce taxes in big cities and allow more money to go back into impoverished areas.”
After the speech, Rock Hill resident Nash Whitney said Paul’s message was “clear as a bell.”
“He’s taking a constitutional stand, and talking about implementing that ideology back into the citizenry,” Whitney said. “I think that’s a very infectious ideology.”
Paul differentiates himself from other Republican candidates by being “not more isolationist, but more anti-interventionist, while others want to be more proactive,” Whitney said, “and (Paul’s stand) is what core conservatism promotes.”
Others weren’t as convinced.
Pam Cullen, who recently moved to Rock Hill, said she hopes to hear more from other GOP candidates as the campaign goes on, but she was impressed with Paul’s speech.
“He was very enthusiastic,” she said. “He knows his stuff… he makes sense when he says we have to save the Bill of Rights, and it has to be all-encompassing.”
Paul is “not my favorite candidate” so far, Cullen said, “but I enjoyed him.”
Her friend Barbara Haba said she wished she had learned more about the freshman senator from the event.
“I would have liked to hear him speak more,” Haba said. “It was kind of short.”
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Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who also is running for the Republican presidential nomination, will appear at two events in the Fort Mill area on Saturday:
▪ 3 p.m. – Meet-and-greet with local officials at Rinehart Realty, 2879 S.C. 160 West, Suite 104, Fort Mill.
▪ 5:30 p.m. – Public town hall event at the Sun City Carolina Lakes Community Center, 5074 Grandview Drive, Indian Land.