Paul Running Hard on Civil Liberties 05/29 06:22
CHICAGO (AP) -- He infuriated his party leaders by almost single-handedly
delaying the extension of the Patriot Act. Now, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is
fighting to transform his recent Capitol Hill victory into momentum with the
voters who will select the next president.
Tangling with a complicated issue that divides the public, Paul does not
have an easy task.
Yet he's seized the opportunity in interviews across the country this week
before another showdown in Congress. And as he courts voters in three states,
the 52-year-old Republican is putting new distance between himself and the rest
of his party's presidential hopefuls.
Voters are noticing.
"I think some of his ideas are a breath of fresh air," said Corey Brooks, an
African-American pastor in the South Side of Chicago, where Paul campaigned
Wednesday. "His views are diametrically opposite of what Republicans tend to
say and do, and I think it's a good thing."
Paul has aggressively sought black support as he crafts a unique coalition
of younger voters and minorities.
He says the Republican reputation "sucks" in a book released this week that
blames the GOP for letting its relationship with minorities "fray to the point
that it is near beyond repair." Yet it's unclear how far his civil liberties
focus resonates beyond the libertarian-leaning voters who supported his
father's presidential ambitions.
In any event, Paul's passionate defense of civil liberties remains the
centerpiece of his platform.
He stood on the Senate floor for nearly 11 hours last week, bucking leaders
in his own party, to protest the National Security Agency's bulk collection
program that monitors Americans' phone records.
His delaying tactic forced Senate leaders to adjourn for the week with no
resolution on the Patriot Act, parts of which are set to expire at midnight
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has summoned the Senate to return for
a rare Sunday session just hours before the deadline. Expiration would mean
suspension of a program revealed by Edward Snowden that collects data on every
American landline call, as well as of two FBI programs to track terrorist
Emboldened by last week's stand, Paul this week launched a national tour
with stops in Illinois, Iowa and South Carolina. His campaign also intensified
its fundraising operation to help cash in on the attention. Even in the midst
of last week's Senate marathon session, Paul took to Twitter to invite
supporters to buy $30 "Filibuster Starter Packs" with a bumper sticker, T-shirt
and a "spy blocker" for Internet browsers. His campaign would not say how much
money he's raised from the confrontation in Congress.
In the meantime, he's lashed out at leaders of his own party.
Appearing on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Paul charged that many
Republicans have abandoned their small-government credo in the national
security debate. He's also blamed Republican national security hawks for the
rise of the Islamic State group.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in a radio interview on Thursday that
people like Paul who oppose the Patriot Act "have a severe case of amnesia"
regarding the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A day earlier, another potential rival
for the GOP nomination, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, said Paul was "unsuited to
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus doesn't necessarily
"I think Rand Paul is a fighter, he always has been," Priebus told The
Associated Press. "I don't think he's hurting anybody. He is an elected senator
that is leading on a number of issues in this country. ... Most people admire
the fact that he's trying to lead."
Yet on government surveillance at least, it's unclear how closely voters are
following Paul's efforts.
In a March 2014 Pew Research Center poll, just 19 percent of Americans said
they were following "reports about the U.S. government's phone and Internet
surveillance programs" very closely, while more than half were not following
"Sen. Rand Paul will follow the Constitution over any poll," Paul spokesman
Sergio Gor said, suggesting that public opinion is shifting.
Indeed, Paul has been railing against government intrusion of civil
liberties for much of his brief political career, just as he did in Chicago
this week, where the reaction was mixed.
"Most people in our community would say we don't want government all in our
business, but that's not first and foremost on our agenda," said Brooks, the
Afterward, an audience comprised largely of young entrepreneurs broke into
applause when Paul's so-called filibuster was mentioned. William Glennan, a
25-year-old welder from Texas, said Paul was refreshing.
"It's a younger message. I like it because he's splitting away from the
traditional Republican Party," Glennan said. "I think everybody's getting sick
of the old-school Republicans."