Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul said he wants the Tea Party movement that has fueled his primary campaign to morph into a broader government reform effort that would have appeal beyond conservative circles.
"I'd like to see in the fall of this year a Tea Party message. In order to have that you have to write it down and define it," he told reporters after addressing the Louisville Tea Party on Thursday.
He then listed potential tenets of that platform: congressional term limits; balancing the budget, stating in bills what part of the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to take such actions, requiring lawmakers to sign a document that they've read the bills they're voting on, and instituting a waiting period for Congress to vote on a bill. Paul suggested a delay of one day for every 20 pages.
"To me, they're reform issues. I see them as having great popularity," he said later in Lexington. "I think they're things that not only would attract Republicans, but Democrats and independents too."
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It was the first glimpse Paul has offered about his strategy to widen his appeal to Kentucky voters if he emerges as the GOP nominee May 18. Paul, a Bowling Green eye doctor and the son of former Republican presidential candidate and Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, has led Secretary of State Trey Grayson in recent polls.
His suggestion for the movement to adopt a platform — his platform — came on federal tax deadline day and one year after Tea Party rallies sprung up across Kentucky and the nation.
Mica Sims, organizer of the Lexington Tea Party rallies, said a broader reform approach could work, but the foundation of the movement has and will remain reducing spending, taxes and the national debt.
"What we need to remember is that our platform, our base, is fiscal conservatism," Sims said.
Sims told more than 400 people on the lawn of First Baptist Church on West Main Street for Thursday evening's Tea — or Taxed Enough Already — Party rally that the Nov. 2 election will be "judgment day" for state and federal lawmakers.
She criticized state legislators for failing to pass a budget, which will require a special session at a cost of $64,000 a day. And the blame should be bipartisan, she said.
"I don't care whether you have an 'R' or 'D' by your name, if you don't get the spending under control, we are sending you home," she said, as people in the crowd waved signs saying "First we protest, then we vote" and "Stop stealing from my grandchildren."
Earlier in the day, as many as 1,000 people packed into Jefferson Square in downtown Louisville with signs bearing similar messages for the federal government, such as "Stop Spending! We are not your debit card" and "You can't spell 'Bailout' without an IOU."
Some speeches and signs in Louisville were laced with more vitriol than those at the Lexington rally.
A truck, for instance, circled the block pulling a large sign on a trailer depicting President Barack Obama in a turban and beard looking like Osama bin Laden and saying "We must stop racist, radical Obama."
Paul, speaking to reporters, later denounced such signs.
"I think we should all denounce it," he said. "But the hard thing about this is it's open mike night. It really is. So the message is really individualized and diverse."
As the event began wrapping up around 1:30, Grayson arrived to shake hands with voters but didn't get to address the crowd. He later attended a Northern Kentucky Tea Party event but missed the Lexington rally because he had committed to speak at the London-Laurel County Chamber of Commerce dinner.
In Lexington, many in the crowd greeted Paul warmly, but not everyone had made up his or her mind.
It was the fifth Tea Party event this year that Amanda Kilkenny, a mother of five from Stanton, attended, but she said she's still closely comparing the U.S. Senate candidates' views.
Josh Lightfoot, 36, of Lexington said he's become increasingly concerned with the national debt as compared to the gross national product, and viewed Congress's moves to approve the Troubled Asset Relief Program to prevent collapse of banks and investment firms as a slap in the face to capitalism and fiscal responsibility.
"I'm leaning toward Rand Paul," Lightfoot said, "which is surprising because I think his dad is a kook."