Rand Paul's Play to Win Over Black Voters at Howard University

RNC Communications - April 10, 2013

The GOP minority outreach efforts continue: This time, it’s Sen. Rand Paul taking the message to a historically black university.

Paul will be delivering a speech at Howard University on Wednesday, where he’ll talk about “the importance of outreach to younger voters, as well as minority groups,” according to his office. He also plans to address school choice and civil liberties.

The Kentucky Republican’s appearance echoes the recommendations made in the Republican National Committee’s autopsy report, detailing why the party lost the 2012 election and urging the party to court minority and young voters. Paul’s positions on foreign policy, Internet freedom, and reforming drug laws appeal to younger voters on college campuses. He also has targeted mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes, which disproportionately affects African-Americans.

But Paul makes for an unusual GOP emissary to black voters. His libertarian, small-government bent is a tough sell in the African-American community, which has long viewed federal government intervention as necessary for securing equal rights. Blacks also make up a disproportionate share of the federal workforce.

While running for Senate in 2010, Paul’s comments that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in forcing private businesses not to racially discriminate created a firestorm. He had to scramble to clarify that he supports the Civil Rights Act and is against segregation in public spaces, and by the next day, he seemed to reverse his position on discrimination by private entities.

The choice of venue for Paul’s speech is also notable. Howard University rarely draws prominent Republican speakers to campus: Colin Powell gave Howard’s commencement speech in 1994, and in 1981, then-Vice President Bush received an honorary degree and delivered the commencement speech. But George W. Bush declined the invitation to speak at Howard during his 2000 campaign, and Al Gore spoke instead. The younger Bush’s name was floated to deliver the 2002 commencement speech, which was met with wide protest.

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