CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA: Republican Sen. Rand Paul opened his presidential exploration tour Friday with a splashy set of speaking engagements in Iowa designed to broaden his tea party brand into something more mainstream and, perhaps, viable.
At the same time, another Republican, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, became the first potential 2016 presidential candidate this year to visit New Hampshire, unofficially kicking off the state’s presidential primary season roughly 2½ years before voting begins.
Paul, the son of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, was the headliner at a marquee Republican dinner and was expected to meet with key voting groups in eastern Iowa.
In coming weeks, the Kentucky Republican will reintroduce himself in New Hampshire and South Carolina as a durable would-be candidate able to broaden the GOP into diverse voting blocs dominated by Democrats. He’s laid some of the groundwork for his case by speaking to black and Hispanic audiences and saying he opposes a federal ban on gay marriage.
“I think people are looking for something different. You might accuse me of being not exactly the traditional cookie-cutter Republican,” Paul told reporters on an afternoon of political events in Cedar Rapids. “I do know the GOP needs to grow and I want to be part of growing the GOP.”
More than 1,000 miles away, Jindal reiterated his call for the GOP to stop being “the stupid party,” insisting that Republicans must expand their message beyond budget austerity and shrinking government.
“In Louisiana, in New Hampshire and in America, we cannot be the party that’s obsessed with government and government only,” he said at a Manchester, N.H., fundraiser for state senators.
While Jindal hasn’t ruled out a White House bid, he insisted Friday that he visited New Hampshire simply to help the local GOP.
“The reality is anybody who’s thinking about 2016 needs to have their head examined,” Jindal said. “It’s way too early.”
All of the prospective GOP candidates face the challenge of uniting a party without a definitive leader after election losses last year. Key voting blocs — women, blacks and Hispanics — voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. Republicans lost seats in the GOP-controlled House, failed to capitalize on a once-promising shot at winning the Senate majority and the party’s presidential nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, failed to unseat Obama.
The party needs to change, Paul said Friday, and that means taking another look at policies that have alienated some groups. For instance, Paul favors relaxing federal sentencing laws for drug crimes, which disproportionately penalize racial minorities.
“We need to have a Republican Party that looks like the rest of America. We need a more inclusive, diverse party,” he said. “We cannot compete unless we are going to go out and say to African-Americans, we want you in our party.”