- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rand Paul is courting black voters unabashedly, traveling a path not taken by most Republican presidential hopefuls since Jack Kemp blitzed urban America with his message of economic hope and opportunity two decades ago.

From his speech at a historically black university to his essay decrying the militarization of local police, Mr. Paul is clearly trying to bridge a gap between the party of Abraham Lincoln and a minority voter base that has massively voted for Democrats.

But whether the senator from Kentucky can leverage his libertarian conservative views and anti-government message into a presidential electoral advantage depends on factors that may extend beyond his control.

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Will black Americans’ frustration with President Obama translate into more Republican voters? Will Mr. Paul’s GOP rivals play the race card aggressively? Will the whole effort devolve in the press simply into a debate over limited government versus social engineering?

All of these questions will help determine the success of Mr. Paul’s strategy.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican. (Associated Press) ** FILE **
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican. (Associated Press) ** FILE ** more >

His foray is garnering praise in much of the media and from some politicians in both parties, but is dividing Republicans who know they must expand their voter base to look more like the face of America.

Sen. Paul is overriding his principles in a mistaken belief that it is necessary to somehow reach black voters,” former Federal Election Commission member Hans A. von Spakovsky said. “He makes a very big deal about saying he believes in the Constitution and keeping the federal government within the limits of its power as defined in the Constitution — a very worthy goal.”

Yet Mr. Paul is sponsoring a bill that would force restoration of voting rights for felons, overriding state laws in what some conservatives believe is a violation of the 14th Amendment, said Mr. von Spakovsky, now senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Paul has been giving speeches about this because he is under the mistaken belief induced by left-wing civil rights groups that this is a big issue for black voters.”

Brian Darling, Mr. Paul’s communications director, disputed the claim that the restoration of federal voting rights is unconstitutional.

“Lawyers in Sen. Paul’s office, including myself, concluded that Sen. Paul’s legislation is constitutional,” Mr. Darling said.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — who in 1983 as a third-term congressman from Georgia founded the Conservative Opportunity Society to focus attention on economic growth, education, crime and social issues affecting urban and minority Americans — praises Mr. Paul’s pursuit of black voters.

Rand Paul is seriously engaging non-Republicans, including African-Americans, in a number of areas,” Mr. Gingrich told The Washington Times. “His comment on the violence in Missouri were important and on point. The worry over militarization of the police is legitimate.”

Veteran Republican campaign pollster John McLaughlin also sees Mr. Paul’s black outreach far more positively — perhaps too positively for some of Mr. Paul’s conservative critics who espouse “principles over politics.”

“It seems that Rand Paul is simply giving passion to his libertarian, anti-big-government views,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “It allows him to go beyond the usual Republican base and attract younger voters and others.”

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