U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has noticed that some of his would-be rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination are using this week's Conservative Political Action Conference to portray him as a foreign policy isolationist.
"I think people ought to spend their time trying to sell their own ideas instead of trying to mischaracterize mine," Paul said Friday.
Hours before Paul was set to speak at CPAC, a conference that is in many ways the first audition for Republican presidential candidates, Kentucky's junior senator told the Herald-Leader that his position on what is happening in Ukraine is in line with what most Americans are thinking.
Paul said neither Republicans nor Democrats are calling for military intervention in the region, where Crimea is attempting to secede from Ukraine amid a heavy Russian military presence, drawing sharp rebukes from the United States.
"So I'm definitely within the mainstream of opinion that I'm not proposing we send soldiers to the Ukraine," Paul said.
As The New York Times reported Friday, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and other potential candidates have used the CPAC conference not only to stake out hawkish positions on Russia but to portray Paul as outside the mainstream of the party, following his father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, on a policy of nonintervention.
Paul has repeatedly called such comments a mischaracterization of his positions, saying there "is no more important priority for government" than protecting the United States and its interests abroad.
The senator said he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin should be "ostracized" and "condemned," and that the Crimean secession threat is already taking its toll on the Russian economy.
"He'll make a Syria out of Ukraine, and I think that will be a disaster for his exports," Paul said.
But Paul said his address to CPAC "won't be a foreign policy speech."
It was a year ago this week that Paul's 13-hour filibuster of the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan thrust him into the national spotlight, and the senator talked to the conference Friday about Fourth Amendment issues.
Paul said National Security Agency's collection of cellphone records, which is at the heart of a lawsuit Paul has filed against the NSA, is the type of issue that concerns young voters. He said he attended some parties with the few thousand young attendees at the conference in Maryland on Thursday night.
Those young voters, the so-called millennials, have been key to Paul's efforts to expand the Republican Party brand for more than a year, and he said talking to them about privacy issues is a way to reverse the trend of young voters who have been supporting Democrats.
"It's really what the Republican Party needs," Paul said. "We need their energy in the party."
Last year's CPAC conference was a triumph for Paul, as he won the straw poll that's conducted at the end of the event.
Paul said he has "no idea" whether he will repeat as the winner, and he said he is more focused on who his wife, Kelley, will vote for.
Paul has repeatedly joked that there are two votes in his house on whether he runs for president in 2016, and that Kelley Paul has both of them.
"She will be voting at CPAC, so the real question is who she will be voting for (there)," Paul said. "I've been working on her, so we'll see."