The pool of Republican candidates vying for the White House keeps getting bigger—more than a dozen have announced their candidacies so far.
The field grows, but Sen. Rand Paul’s strategy has so far stayed the same.
In an effort to set himself apart from candidates grappling for Republican primary voters—who typically lean further right—Paul is reaching out to African American voters.
“So, I was in the South side of Chicago two weeks ago,” Paul told a group of reporters this week while stopping by the Plymouth Community Renewal Center in West Louisville’s Russell neighborhood. “I was in Highland Park, which is inside of Detroit three days ago. And I keep doing what I’m doing.”
During Paul’s visit to Louisville on Monday, he sat and talked to a small group of high school and middle school students from the area. He asked them about the problems they face where they live.
“Do you think the shootings, when you see shootings. that it has something to do with drugs?” Paul said.
Unanimously, the children replied “yes.”
The Kentucky senator’s outreach efforts to the African American community started sometime before he formally announced his candidacy. Now, he says this is part of his long-term strategy.
During their sit down with Paul in Louisville, students said they worried about crime and abandoned property in their neighborhoods.
These specific issues are among many markers of a distressed community, according to a new study recently highlighted by The Washington Post.
The Economic Innovation Group listed some of the most distressed cities in the country as well as the most unequal—meaning cities where distressed communities live in close proximity to wealthy communities.
Louisville was in the list of top 10 cities in the country fitting the latter description.
Democratic presidential candidates have made income inequality a big part of their campaigns. But when asked about the role of income inequality in the lives of these communities—including here in Louisville—Paul said it’s better to focus on solutions.
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“We’ve had these problems for 50 years now,” he said. “We’ve had a war on poverty for 50 years and we have more poverty. So I think that we have to rethink what we are doing and say what works and what doesn’t work.”
Dewey Clayton, a political science professor at The University of Louisville, said what Paul’s strategy poses difficulties.
Republicans don’t have a history of reaching out to minorities—especially on issues of income inequality and race, he said.
“I do think that Senator Paul is on to something,” Clayton said. “The country is changing greatly now and almost as quickly as we speak here and Senator Paul at least is aware of this and is trying to grapple with some of this issues and where his party stands on them.”
Whether that will be effective, Clayton is less sure.
“Well it’s going to be hard to tell,” he said. “Senator Paul, he has made outreach to the minority community and trying to listen to what some of their concerns are and in talking about initiatives that would actually help them.”
Among those initiatives is Paul’s push for economic freedom zones in poor and depressed areas—as well as criminal justice reform. It’s too early to tell whether this has really made any impact, yet. But at the moment the libertarian-leaning candidate is not doing that well in the polls, hoovering in the bottom tier of a crowded Republican field.