Merlene Davis: Rand Paul's recent comments are resonating with blacks, young voters

Herald-Leader columnistJune 23, 2014 

Rand Paul



Just when I'm about to push Republican Sen. Rand Paul into a round hole, he mutates into a triangle.

Over the weekend, the Tea Party's favorite son and Libertarian announced he would introduce a bill in Congress to restore the voting rights of nonviolent ex-felons. We all figured he would. He had voiced his support of that measure earlier this year.

That was when he was round.

Then, during that same weekend, Paul challenged former Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that the mess in Iraq is President Barack Obama's fault. Paul has criticized Cheney's involvement in that war before, but not in defense of a Democratic president.

That was when Paul became a triangle.

Who is that man beneath the curly hair whose face is ever-present on TV? Is he a Tea Party champion, an advocate of individualism, or a man courting the voters who carried Obama into the White House?

Paul has gone from being a Senate candidate who spewed individualism that favored business owners over the public good, to being a potential presidential candidate who wants to win over new voters.

And that transformation means he will support issues that Republicans and Tea Partiers normally don't. And, while doing that, he is making no apologies to other members of the GOP.

"I believe in these issues," Paul said during an interview for "But I'm a politician, and we want more votes. Even if Republicans don't get more votes, we feel like we've done the right thing."

Paul also favors reforming sentences for drug offenses which disproportionately affect minorities, and he said he is thinking about ways to get non-violent ex-offenders in the job market.

The restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders and easing their re-entry into the job market are banners waved by Democrats, not Republicans.

But the move seems to be working, at least with some black people in Kentucky.

A recent poll found that 29 percent of black people surveyed would vote for Paul. That's up 16 percent since his 2010 victory over Jack Conway for the senate seat.

Young voters and black voters pushed Obama over the top in the 2008 and 2012 elections. So what is Paul doing for young voters?

He challenged the constitutionality of some of the intelligence gathering methods of the National Security Agency, going so far as to file a class-action lawsuit against the Obama administration and the NSA to halt the program.

Young voters tend to see that program as an invasion of their privacy, especially when their cell phone conversations are involved. And young voters aren't really crazy about war.

Cheney, who harshly criticized Obama for the new terrorist threats in Iraq, called Paul an "isolationist."

"Rand Paul, with all due respect, is basically an isolationist," Cheney said on ABC's This Week. "He doesn't believe we ought to be involved in that part of the world. I think it's absolutely essential."

But Paul said Cheney and the Bush administration were wrong in their assessment of weapons of mass destruction and how easily the war would be won.

"I don't blame President Obama," Paul said. "Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution."

Paul's position on those issues is resonating with young voters, too.

In another recent poll, Paul is running even with expected Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton among young voters.

Who is Rand Paul? How can he keep Republican voters happy while embracing Democratic issues?

Trey Grayson, the director of Harvard's Institute of Politics whom Paul defeated in the 2010 Senate Republican primary, said Paul could be the GOP nominee.

"Some of the things that I saw that he did quite well in running against me, he's continuing to do that," Grayson told ABC News' Rick Klein. "For the Republican Party to win more elections, we've got to do a better job of bringing younger voters into the fold, and Sen. Paul certainly does that," he said.

I'm just not comfortable with the man yet. He has said things I like to hear, but I've been fooled before.

Plus, a couple of months ago, a panel at the Institute for Politics voted Paul "the most intriguing man in the Republican Party."

"Intriguing" may help Paul curry favor with blacks, young people, and GOP faithfuls hoping to win the White House again.

But recent evidence shows the Tea Party is more attracted to a cookie-cutter Stepford wife. That mutation will end his hopes of being president.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog:

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