Sen. Rand Paul is scheduled to speak Wednesday at Howard University in a high-profile visit that will test the tea party favorite’s claim that his libertarian message can travel anywhere and help bolster the GOP’s image on the national stage.
“Coming out of the 2012 election, the Democrats accused the Republicans of being too pale, male and stale,” GOP strategist Keith Appell said.
“One way to knock that back is to take your message into different ethnic communities, listen to them first and then explain how conservative policies can actually help them get jobs, improve their standard of living, as opposed to failed liberal policies of the past.”
Others, though, cautioned that Republicans will continue to struggle to make inroads with the minority voters that helped power President Obama to victory over GOP nominee Mitt Romney in November.
“A lot of people in the Republican Party have become somewhat unhinged, and a number of them express a lot of racist sentiment in term of how it relates to Obama, and when they do it African-Americans feel it,” said David A. Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
Mr. Bositis said that Mr. Paul could score some points by addressing ways to reduce the number of blacks in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, but he said Mr. Paul ultimately will struggle to woo black voters thanks in part to his refusal to embrace the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Jeffrey Miron, professor of the economics of libertarianism at Harvard University, said he would be “surprised if Paul, or other Republicans, make large inroads.”
“But I think Paul can do better than, say, Romney, if he can present the free-market view as providing broad opportunity rather than as a system that protects the existing rich (crony capitalism),” Mr. Miron said in an email.
Mr. Paul’s office did not respond to a request for comment on his address.
The speech comes roughly five months after Mr. Obama won 93 percent of the black vote highlighting the problem Republicans have had winning over minority voters.
In its post-election “Growth and Opportunity Project” report, the Republican National Committee said the party must focus its efforts to court various minority groups, including Hispanics, Asians and blacks.
“Unless the RNC gets serious about tackling this problem, we will lose future elections; the data demonstrates this,” the report found.
As part of that effort, the RNC said Republicans must embark on a year-round effort to engage with black voters, and recommended the GOP “engage historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with the goal of educating the community on Republican ideals and the Party’s history.”
Mr. Paul, meanwhile, has seen his star rise within Republican ranks since he launched a 13-hour information-seeking filibuster that showcased the libertarian brand of politics that Mr. Paul says can bring members of both parties together particularly on issues tied to civil liberties and foreign policy.
“I think the Republican Party needs to figure out how to be bigger, and I think I do bring some ideas to that,” Mr. Paul said last month on “Fox News Sunday.” “And I think some of those ideas are a more libertarian-Republican approach to things, and I think that a lot of young people are attracted to that. And our party could grow if we accepted something maybe a little different than the cookie-cutter conservatives that we’ve put out in the past.”
Mr. Paul also has been one of the fiercest critics of his party, telling the thousands gathered at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month that “the GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered.”