Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul presented himself as a candidate with a balanced platform that can draw Republican, independent and Democratic voters to the more than 250 party faithful at the DiGiorgio Campus Center of Winthrop University on Friday.
His simple style impressed the crowd, many of the young students new to the political process.
But the person Paul hoped to impress the most was his host and colleague in the U.S. Senate, Tim Scott of Charleston.
Paul was the ninth person Scott has shared the stage throughout South Carolina as part of Scott’s Presidential Town Hall Series. Four more GOP presidential candidates are scheduled to appear with Scott through December.
When the Town Hall meetings are over, Scott will announce which GOP candidate he is endorsing for president.
“Scott’s endorsement is the gold standard for candidates,” said Winthrop political science professor Scott Huffmon.
Joining Scott and Paul was U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg who represents South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. With a picture of the sculpture of President Abraham Lincoln as a backdrop, the three sat in large easy chairs, an informal setting that reminded many in the audience of listening to someone in their living room.
Paul fielded questions submitted by those who registered for the Town Hall meeting online.
The questions ranged from constitutional issues – one of the basics of the Kentucky senator’s campaign – to specific issues such as foreign policy, the Federal Reserve and Social Security.
Paul’s proposed changes to the criminal justice system created the most buzz. He wants to move many nonviolent felony crimes to misdemeanors. People should be not be penalized for youthful mistakes and all people should be treated fairly, Paul said.
He talked about cocaine as an example. Crack cocaine, Paul said, is largely used by African-Americans and the usual sentence for possession can be as much as 15 years. Powder cocaine, he said, is largely used by whites. Their possession penalties can often be nothing more than probation, he said.
Paul’s ideas caught the attention of Andre Jeffries, who is black and a member of the College Republicans at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“On the war on drugs, the GOP needs to say, ‘We messed up, we’re sorry,’ ” Jeffries said. “Rand Paul’s ideas are a move in the right direction.”
John Holder, a Winthrop political science professor, said he didn’t know how Paul’s criminal reform ideas would play among social conservatives. “But, it’s a way to expand the party.”
Paul has spent the last several years trying to bring people of all colors and experiences to the Republican Party. His consistency impressed Holder. “That is atypical for most politicians,” Holder said.
In answering most of the other questions Paul stressed a need to strike a balance.
On foreign policy, he said the U.S. needs to find the middle ground, making decisions on, “How does it affect our national interest. It depends on the facts.”
On immigration, he talked about securing borders and how to deal with the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. “You can’t send them back,” he said. Paul said he supports giving the undocumented immigrants work permits, doing background checks on them and letting them work as along as it doesn’t cost a U.S. citizen a job.
Paul said, “I can’t name names but we don’t need a president that calls all people of brown skin rapists and drug dealers,” – a reference to GOP candidate Donald Trump.
On the nation’s fiscal problems, Paul said Republicans and Democrats share responsibility. “There is a vocal group in the GOP that wants a blank check for the military and Democrats who want a blank check for welfare. It’s an unholy alliance to spend money.”
One of the solutions to the spending problems is return more decisions to states because, “States don’t have printing presses, they have to spend what they collect.”
Limited government and being fiscally conservative caught the attention of Kat Yoffie, president of the Winthrop Young Republicans and a volunteer at Friday’s event.
After listening to Paul, Yoffie said, “He’s one of my top two candidates.”
S.C. GOP chairman assails Clinton
Rand Paul, Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy were not the only Republicans seeking attention Friday at Winthrop.
Matt Moore, chairman of the Republican Party of South Carolina, appeared before reporters to take shots at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“She is a candidate of the past selling yesterday’s ideas,” Moore said, adding she lacked anything that would bring economic opportunity to all Americans. “That’s what the election is all about.”