Rand Paul stumps for GOP in Virginia

Rand Paul stumps for GOP in Virginia

ASHLAND, Va. — Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter Sunday Show Preview: Trump's allies and administration defend decision on Syria Ana Navarro clashes with Rand Paul in fiery exchange: 'Don't mansplain!' MORE took the stage as Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” blared on the speakers.

On one side of him was Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman and ex-D.C. lobbyist who’s running for the Senate. On the other: Dave Brat, the Tea-Party insurgent who came out of nowhere to oust then-Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorMeet Trump's most trusted pollsters Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington GOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' MORE in the June GOP primary.

ADVERTISEMENT

Wednesday’s joint campaign rally marked another step for Paul, the Kentucky Republican senator, as he seeks to reach out to disparate factions of the Republican Party ahead of his almost-certain run for the White House in 2016.

“I see unity, and I see victory. Be part of it!” Paul told about 150 supporters who had braved the rain and jammed into a former Civil War-era Baptist church in this conservative town of 7,000 just north of Richmond.

But walking the Tea Party-establishment tightrope is proving to be tricky for Paul. When he mocked President Obama’s “pen and phone” campaign, a man from the audience screamed, “Treason!”

“Impeach Obama!” someone else yelled.

Sporting a pink shirt, sport coat, jeans and boots, Paul warned the crowd that a vote for Gillespie’s opponent, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), is a vote to keep Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in charge of the Senate majority.

But he didn’t specifically mention Gillespie, a former George W. Bush adviser, by name. Instead, he quickly pivoted to Brat, an economist and professor at nearby Randolph-Macon College who, Paul said, hasn’t yet been elected to Congress but is already shaking up Washington.

It’s a narrative much like his own.

“When I ran for office, people said, ‘Oh, you’re just a physician from a small town. How could you possibly be in the U.S. Senate?’” Paul said. “And I say precisely my strength is that I have not been in office. I haven’t been dumbed down by the system. I haven’t been beaten to death by the system. I still know what’s right and wrong. I still know what’s good for the country.

“And I will vote that way regardless of whether I get reelected because it’s the right thing to do.”

The son of former Texas congressman and two-time GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, Rand Paul rode the Tea-Party wave during his improbable 2010 Senate victory. But as he has eyed a 2016 bid, the younger Paul has been leaving behind his isolationist views that for years had put him at odds with the GOP establishment’s traditionally hawkish positions.

The younger Paul has also been reaching out to groups the Republican Party has struggled to attract, including inner-city minorities and young people who agree with the senator’s anti-government surveillance message. He recently stopped at the liberal bastion known as the University of California, Berkeley.

“We can win Virginia, and we can win across America, but we only win if we reach out to new people,” Paul said. “We have to talk to new people. We have to welcome them into our party, and we have to say, ‘Look, if you are poor and you live in our cities, what has the president done for you?' "

Voters who turned up at the Hanover Arts & Activities Center rally said they like Paul but they’re just not ready to endorse him for president in 2016.

Travis Witt, head of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots, said he could get behind Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) or conservative Ben Carson, but the Disciples of Christ pastor hasn’t made up his mind yet.

Registered independents Janet and Frank Bonillo, retirees who live in nearby Mineral, Va., say they’re excited for filmmaker Dennis Michael Lynch, who announced a long-shot presidential bid last week in Arizona. Janet Bonillo, 72, said she’s a bit concerned about Paul’s past anti-war views, with Islamic terrorists threatening Americans.

“We can’t wait for them to come to the homefront,” she said.

Others said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would be the clear favorite if he decides to jump in the race.

“It’d be hard to wager against Jeb Bush, if the country could take another Bush,” said Virginia state Del. Jimmie Massie, a Republican who represents Henrico County. “He’s got all those contacts across the country, and Karl Rove’s no dummy.”

Brat campaign manager Phil Rapp said his candidate met with Paul in Washington a few weeks ago and that the senator offered then to stump for him in the Old Dominion State. But Rapp said Brat has been completely focused on his 7th District race and has not pledged to endorse anyone in the GOP presidential primary.

Paul has “provided steady and consistent and constant leadership in the Congress for liberty, for limited government,” Brat said on stage, “and he has fought every day against our government that wants to spy on the people of the United States.”