Senator Rand Paul has made growing the Republican Party beyond its aging, white base a central goal of his career.
Demographic trends are unmistakably leading to a future where a candidate can’t win the presidency with the support of white voters alone. This speaks to why Paul’s outreach, especially to young people and minorities, is so important for conservatism.
Whether it’s Paul’s engagements at historically black universities, his focus on helping cities like Detroit and Baltimore through criminal justice and economic reform, or his welcoming diverse new members to the GOP, he’s one of the few Republicans consistently engaged in outreach beyond the traditional Republican base.
This week, Paul proved once again that he’s willing to go places other conservatives wouldn’t dare set foot in:
Meeting with patrons at Platinum Kutz in Des Moines, Paul spoke about the importance of making our criminal justice system fair and creating economic opportunity in historically blighted areas.
According to the Quad City Times, Paul made known his support for restoring felons’ voting rights and removing barriers ex-convicts face when trying to find work. “I think, frankly, kids make mistakes and they ought to get a second chance,” Paul said.
Robert Presswood, the barbershop’s owner, told the Quad City Times that “[It’s] a real big for the young, black youth,” referring to the criminal justice system. “Any time you got a person going to prison for 15, 20 years for a non-violent crime, it’s ridiculous.”
Paul has also made several trips to Detroit to talk about free market paths to economic prosperity, and aided with the opening of a Republican office there. Detroit is a majority-minority city that has faced severe economic difficulties, including a brush with bankruptcy.
Youth outreach is another priority for Paul and another challenge for the GOP. His campaign has organized thousands of young people on the ground in Iowa, a group Paul calls “the unpolled youth.” As he told The Guardian, “A lot of younger people don’t answer their phone and in fact aren’t on any kind of polling.” Paul also noted that he hasn’t met one young person who’s been polled. “We think we’re going to surprise some people,” he added, in reference to the February 1 Iowa caucuses.
Whether Paul’s non-traditional outreach methods will lead to electoral victory is an open question. But polls, even if they don’t include his young supporters as he contends, show him rising in Iowa. A recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll has Paul in fifth place, ahead of Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie.