Sen. Rand Paul says school choice could expand GOP

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CHICAGO (AP) - Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said voters in perennial Democratic strongholds such as Chicago and Milwaukee will think differently if they see Republicans not just visiting these places, but discussing issues pertinent to their circumstances.

That’s the thinking behind the 2016 GOP presidential prospect’s current visit to the two Midwestern metropolitan areas, where Paul said the Republican issue of school choice could appeal to minority parents.

“If people say, ‘We’re going to go out and get the African-American vote,’ that’s all good and well, but you also have to have something to say,” Paul told reporters after an hourlong talk with students and parents at a private Catholic school Tuesday on Chicago’s near north side.

“We need a few extra votes,” he said after visiting the all-girls Josephinum Academy. “We have to figure out as Republicans how to get our message to the people who favor charter schools and favor choice in schools, and say, look, we do care about your kids.”

Paul, who is weighing a 2016 presidential bid, has called for widening the GOP’s appeal to include more racial and ethnic minorities and younger voters, a clear majority of which President Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Since last year, Paul has made similar trips to Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and elsewhere. He’s scheduled to talk about school choice in Milwaukee Wednesday.

Later, after meeting with African-American leaders to discuss economic development, Paul turned his pitch to younger voters at the University of Chicago, this time expressing outrage at the federal government’s access to personal data.

“Think about what’s on your Visa bill … whether you drink, whether you smoke, whether you gamble, and how much,” the libertarian-leaning son of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul told about 500 mostly college-aged young adults. “Think about your cellphone, and think about whether you agree with me or not that it’s none of their damn business.”

The college speech was followed by an at-times pointed conversation with longtime adviser to Obama, David Axelrod. Axelrod is director of University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, an office he opened after leaving the White House last year.

“To me it’s not a question of whether he’s a good person,” Paul told Axelrod, seated in a lounge chair across from the former Obama adviser. “Due process is not just hiring some attorneys to have some privacy safeguards.”

Axelrod replied quickly: “I worry deeply about the issues you’re raising. I also worry about the safety of Americans.”

Axelrod posed a rapid-fire series of questions to Paul, who expressed skepticism over humankind’s effect on global climate change and said he saw insufficient public outcry to further restrict abortion rights.

“We’re not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise,” Paul said about abortion.

Education has taken a back seat to the economy, the national debt, national security and health care in recent elections. But Paul said he expects education to play a larger role in the upcoming election, as a proxy for the scope of government, which Republicans are divided on how tightly it should be contained.

He told reporters after the high school event that he wished education was controlled solely by state and local governments. But as long as some federal money goes to education, he would like it to go to low-income students, not the school districts.

Education “needs to be a big issue” for the 2016 presidential campaign, because it reaches out to some communities that haven’t been listening to Republicans, he said.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also is weighing a 2016 GOP presidential bid, has been a proponent of school choice and headlined an education event in Arizona on Monday.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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