As I watched the roll-out of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's bid for the Republican presidential nomination last week, I thought I was about to see him announce that he was changing his party affiliation.
The first three or four people on stage were either black or Hispanic. The rest were young white women. I don't recall that happening for a Republican candidate since that party welcomed all the Dixiecrat segregationists into its ranks.
Former Oklahoma Republican Rep. J.C. Watts was the emcee of sorts, and Watts was followed by another black man, Jerry Stephenson, pastor of Midwest Church of Christ in Louisville.
In a caricature of a black preacher, and to the delight of the crowd, Stephenson thunderously said he was an Independent and urged all Independents to support Paul.
Wow. Maybe, as he claims, Paul is a "different kind of Republican."
I definitely agree with Paul's stance to change the criminal justice system, and I'm not hearing many other Republicans talking about that.
He also has visited Howard University, a predominantly black campus, and the inner city, touting enrichment programs and education reform. He didn't have a great deal of success but, then, it was more than most Republicans have achieved.
Still, I came away from that Hollywood-like show feeling unsure about the man. I just wasn't certain another shoe wouldn't drop, as it did in Louisville in 2010, when he visited The Courier-Journal after winning the Republican nomination for Senate. He said then that privately owned businesses should be allowed to discriminate, as abhorrent as that might be to Paul and others.
The dropping shoe didn't take very long. The next day, he was prickly on NBC's Today show when a litany of his flip-flops was recited to him. And later, when his abortion stance was questioned, impudence flared again.
While the simulated coronation went well in Louisville, Paul didn't handle being questioned by journalists too well.
When some accused him of having a problem with women reporters, the ones he dissed by talking over them, Paul said he is prickly with men and women in the media when they editorialize instead of asking direct questions.
Pointing out the numerous times Paul has changed his positions on issues isn't what journalism schools would define as editorializing, however. If you choose to be in the national news, trying to appeal to a national audience so you can capture the highest office on the national landscape, you can't be that prickly and successful at the same time.
Paul knows that. Maybe that is why he is maneuvering changes within the state Republican Party to run for two offices at the same time.
Hedging your bet indicates a little doubt.
Paul is joined on the Republican side by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a fringe candidate at best, who was born in Canada to an American mother. No one seems to be making a big deal about this. Cruz announced his intentions in March.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was also expected to throw his hat in the Republican ring with an announcement set for late Monday. If he does, he will resign his Senate seat, since Florida law prohibits candidates from running for two offices at the same time. Unlike Paul, he doesn't seem to have any end runs planned to circumvent that law.
"I think, by and large," Rubio said April 1, "when you choose to do something as big as (seeking the presidency), you've really got to be focused on that and not have an exit strategy."
That is refreshing.
Cruz and Rubio would be vying to become our first Hispanic president.
On the Democratic side, the announcement from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was far less of a production this past weekend. It was simply a video and promises to visit with folks in small groups around the country. That means we won't get to see her prickly side when it comes to the media for a couple of weeks.
Clinton wants to be this nation's first woman president.
Now all we're waiting for is an announcement from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and maybe Vice President Joe Biden.
If any of those candidates joins with Paul in addressing the needs of ex-offenders and changing our judicial system, then I would count that as a victory for Paul even if he bows out. If any of the candidates talk more seriously about a living wage, social equity issues and programs for the poor, I'd count that as a victory for voters.
But if all we're going to be privy to is a continuation of the name-calling, fear-mongering and conspiracy theories that we've already seen, then this is going to be a long election season.
In that latter case, we journalists should hone our questioning to get at the issues candidates try to side-step, no matter how prickly they become.