BERKELEY, Calif. – Rand Paul's swing through Berkeley is just the beginning of his foray into traditionally Democratic territory.
After his visit to this liberal stronghold, where he's speaking to students about the NSA and privacy, the Kentucky senator will make stops at the National Urban League in July and at the NAACP in the coming months, if an informal invitation from the group is made official. He's also plotting a trip to Chicago and Milwaukee, Paul said in an interview this week, where he plans to speak about education and "school choice."
It's all part of his effort to cast himself as the man who can broaden the appeal of the Republican Party ahead of a widely expected 2016 presidential run. Among the demographic groups that Paul is most furiously targeting are young voters and African-Americans.
"For the Republican Party to win again we need to go places we haven't been going, and we need to attract people we haven't been attracting. Part of that is the message, but part of that is also showing up," Paul told National Journal. "I think we need to show up in challenging circumstances, so you don't think of Berkeley as being a bastion of Republican politics and so I think it's a good place to go."
Paul, a fierce critic of the National Security Agency's tactics, believes the issue of surveillance can—and has already started to—peel young voters away from President Obama and the Democratic Party.
"The youth vote went 3-to-1 for President Obama but recent polls, in the last six months, have shown his support dropping because, mostly because of the NSA scandal, I think," Paul said.
Paul said he also wants to make a push into big cities where Republicans have been swamped in recent elections. "We have a trip planned to Chicago and Milwaukee to talk about school choice and to talk about education in the large cities and how we can do a better job than what we're doing," he said.
The senator has made a concerted effort to broaden his appeal to black voters, appearing at Howard University last year and another historically black college earlier this year.
He said he planned to speak to the National Urban League in July and that he would like to speak with the NAACP, whose president invited him via the media last month, as well. "I don't know if we actually have an invitation but we'll do that if we're invited," Paul said.
Paul's political maneuverings are garnering increased attention as he has risen in the national polling for 2016. His appearance in Berkeley is expected to draw a full house and a bevy of both local and national reporters.
"If we're just trying to get the message out about how we grow the Republican Party, I have a bigger microphone because people are seeing me as a contender," he said.
This article appears in the March 20, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.