PHILADELPHIA — Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulDestructive 'fat cat' tax law a complete flop. It's time to repeal it. Trump must take action in Macedonia to fix damage done by Obama and Clinton We can put America first by preventing public health disasters MORE is pulling a variety of tricks from the bag to keep himself in the top tier of 2016 GOP presidential contenders.
The Kentucky Republican is courting the media aggressively, taking a page from Sen. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain: China has done ‘nothing’ on North Korea Graham: There are 'no good choices left' with North Korea Graham: North Korea shouldn't underestimate Trump MORE’s (R-Ariz.) Straight Talk Express campaign of 2000 and arranging for vans to shuttle reporters from Washington, D.C., to record his moves in Philadelphia.
The centerpiece of the senator’s trip Monday was a rally in front of Independence Hall, where he promised a filibuster against efforts this week to extend the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.
Separately, Paul promised he’d compete with Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Whip List: Who to watch on GOP's new ObamaCare bill The US should give peace a chance when it comes to North Korea Obama photographer gets book deal MORE for black voters in Philadelphia and other urban centers. He told a local radio host that her husband, former President Clinton, contributed to the mass incarceration of black men with his backing of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
“If I were the nominee, we will compete in Philadelphia,” he told radio host Dom Giordano at the National Constitution Center. “I’ll ask Hillary Clinton, ‘What have you done for criminal justice? Your husband passed all the laws that put a generation of black men in prison.’ Her husband was responsible for that.”
The libertarian Republican is in many ways an unconventional candidate, but his moves on Monday highlighted his efforts to hold on to his father’s core supporters while extending his appeal to new groups of voters, such as African-Americans.
Paul believes his message will resonate, though polls suggest he has his work cut out for him.
Recent surveys have found him tied with Clinton in his home state of Kentucky, which has been a stronghold for Republican presidential candidates in recent cycles.
And Paul went largely unrecognized when he walked into a McDonald’s close to Independence Hall to order off the Dollar Menu.
A recent Fox News poll of 1,006 registered voters nationwide found 19 percent had never heard of Paul, compared to 9 percent who were not familiar with Jeb Bush and 1 percent who didn’t know Hillary Clinton.
A poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling last week found him in seventh place among GOP presidential contenders, and with single-digit support.
To break through, Paul is making a concerted effort to court the press.
He often invites reporters to accompany him on trips around the country, such as to Dallas, Detroit and his multi-state campaign launch that began last month in Louisville.
He invited reporters to sit with him on a flight to Dallas earlier this year, when he criticized Bush for opposing an initiative to legalize medical marijuana while serving as governor of Florida. Bush had just admitted to smoking pot while attending Phillips Andover, an elite private high school.
He’s been outspoken on the need to reform the nation’s criminal justice system, which he argues has been unfair to African-Americans.
“I tend to talk about criminal justice all the time. I don’t care what the crowd is because I feel really strongly about it,” he said in Philadelphia. “I feel strongly about, probably even when I was a kid, about defending the underdog.”
In another unorthodox departure from his Republican rivals, Paul stresses the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, which guarantee rights to privacy and due process, over the Second, which enshrines the right to bear arms.
In this week’s debate over the NSA’s programs, Paul said he will filibuster a short-term extension of surveillance authority and also oppose a reform measure passed overwhelmingly by the House called the USA Freedom Act.
“We will do everything possible, including filibustering the Patriot Act, to stop them,” he told the cheering crowd at Independence Hall.
Paul said he wants to buy more time to “rally the country” to call their senators and congressional representatives to urge them to oppose the program’s reauthorization.
“I can delay it, I can force them to debate it so the public at large can know what they’re doing,” he said.
Away from the Senate, Paul hasn’t been afraid of quirky gambits to engage with voters.
He celebrates Festivus, a make-believe holiday made famous by the comedy TV show “Seinfeld.” He repurposed Ray-Ban sunglasses as Rand-Bans, which he sold on his website, much to the displeasure of the company.
He surprised and angered some conservative donors this winter by wearing blue jeans to a policy summit convened by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch in California.
Paul’s penchant for going against the grain has infuriated some fellow Republicans.
McCain once called him a “wacko bird,” but Paul said he doesn’t mind.
“We’re proud of that. We put that on the back cover,” he said, referring to his new book, Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America.