The 50th anniversary of the landmark “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Alabama, came and went Saturday without the presence of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky or any other high-profile potential Republican presidential contender.
Mr. Paul stayed in his home state Saturday while Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Lindsey Graham and Scott Walker congregated in Iowa for the Agricultural Summit in Des Moines.
What saved the dearth of Republicans in Selma from suggesting that Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was still alive was the presence of former President George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (in a last-minute change of mind), and Sen. Rob Portman, a member of the Senate Republican leadership.
Republican Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina, one of the upper chamber’s two black members, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama also showed up, as did a few Republican House members, including Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota who has pushed for a federal law to require voter identification despite opposition from many black interest groups and lawmakers.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted a picture of himself standing alone at the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Saturday with the words, “Proud to have been part of @FaithNPolitics pilgrimage and visit the site of the historic Selma March. #Selma50”
Mr. Priebus left Selma early, before the commemoration ceremonies, because his daughter’s birthday fell on Saturday, said RNC Communications Director Sean Spiker.
Mr. Priebus has spoken often of the need for Republicans to engage on a personal, sustained level with black, Hispanic and Asian voters.
The absence of Mr. Paul, 52, is particularly noteworthy because he differs in some basic ways from his potential nomination rivals in his approach to race and ethnic voters. He is the one presidential possibility who goes out of his way to address black audiences skeptical of the Republican Party — at the National Urban League Conference last year and at historically black Howard University in 2013.
In Mr. Paul’s case, staying in Bowling Green instead of going to Selma was as important as things get for a politician of national stature. For some two years, he has been gunning his engine for a possible run for the presidential nomination. He also has been engaging in the equivalent of preparatory calisthenics for a shot at another six-year Senate term in case his dream of the presidency turns out to be no more than that.
His problem is that Kentucky law says he can’t compete for two offices in a primary. His solution is to secure the Senate nomination with the Kentucky Republican primary and end-run the obstructing statute by having the state party hold a presidential preference caucus next year so he can compete in that instead of the usual presidential primary.
His three-way dilemma forced him to decide whether to show himself off to Iowa voters, to show he is serious about broadening his party’s base or to meet the need to ensure routes to political survival in Kentucky
Mr. Paul decided it was important to show up in person for a state Republican Party executive committee discussion and vote on whether to recommend changing next year’s presidential primary to a presidential preference caucus. Mr. Paul figured that attending the executive committee session would signal that he wasn’t taking the members for granted.
It worked. They voted unanimously Saturday to recommend to the full state GOP central committee that the party hold a presidential caucus, despite the added expense to taxpayers.
So Mr. Paul apparently can seek two nominations, but he still faces a long haul. Whether he can appear on the fall ballot as a candidate for U.S. presidency and the U.S. Senate is a state legal matter to be resolved later.
The skids were greased for a move to a 2016 caucus when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, endorsed the move. Mr. Paul had upset some tea partyers by endorsing Mr. McConnell in 2014 for a nomination to another Senate term despite Mr. McConnell’s willingness to reach accord with Democrats occasionally.
Mr. Paul a few days ago said he understands the impetus for the civil rights march through Selma on the way to Birmingham 50 years ago and why it led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Conservatives at the time were divided on passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Voting Rights Act a year later. Some argued that the purpose of ensuring equal opportunity was worthwhile and resorted to federal legislation rather than leaving to the states a matter that was not a legitimate constitutional power.
Local and state law enforcement clubbed, hosed and loosed dogs on the demonstrators, among whose ranks was John Lewis, now a veteran U.S. House member from Georgia.
“People at the time must have been shocked by the violence of it,” Mr. Paul said in a March 6 interview with AL.com’s Cameron Smith. “It also showed that something really had to be done. It was extraordinary to have federal intervention, but at the same time what happened with the violence at Selma was extraordinary as well.”
He said the Selma march “helped solidify that it was really time to fix the tragedy of separation and segregation. We do have a lot of work to do. We have a great deal of poverty in our big cities.”