Paul takes page from Clinton playbook

Paul takes page from Clinton playbook
© Greg Nash

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Ky.) is adopting an old tactic of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE's, making a habit of working across the aisle ahead of a presidential election. 

Paul, a likely presidential candidate in 2016, has sponsored bills with Democratic colleagues on topics ranging from criminal justice reform to fiscal oversight of the Pentagon, apparently in an effort to broaden his appeal.

He could be helped in this regard by his overall worldview. Paul sees interventionism overseas and government surveillance at home through a skeptical lens, a position that is more common, overall, on the left than the right.

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Still, Paul is best known to many people as a leader of the 2010 Tea Party revolution. Others recall that one of the first media firestorms he ignited was centered on his complicated view of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Conspicuous teamwork with Democrats in Congress could help him appeal to independents in next year’s primaries and in the general election.

This week, Paul introduced legislation with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to restore federal voting rights to non-violent offenders who have been released from prison.

Last week, he unveiled a bill with Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, to give federal judges more discretion to hand out sentences below the requirements of mandatory minimums.

Paul and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of the most liberal members of the Democratic caucus, last month announced a proposal to extend the Highway Trust Fund by giving companies a tax incentive to repatriate overseas profits.

In her time in the Senate, Hillary Clinton sponsored an array of bipartisan bills, with an eye on fashioning a pragmatic image after years of being seen as a hyper-partisan figure.

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In the summer of 2006, for example, she co-sponsored, with former Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), a proposed constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the American flag that came within one vote of passing the Senate.

And such efforts are not wholly confined to the past for Clinton, who is preparing for another likely White House run in 2016.

Just this week, she joined forces with former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to publish an op-ed in The New York Times urging Congress to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Political experts say Paul’s effort to defy ideological stereotypes could pay off in next year’s primaries as well as in the general election.

“Paul wants to appeal to people who have low party identification,” said Al Cross, a longtime Kentucky political columnist. “A lot of voters like candidates who think outside the box and kind of cross party lines and get something done.

“It’s mainly about the primary,” he added. “It’s more of a New Hampshire strategy than anything else.”

In New Hampshire, independents make up more than 40 percent of the electorate and they’re allowed to vote in either the Republican or the Democratic primary.

Showing an ability to work across party lines could also help Paul pick up Democratic votes in other important open-primary states such as Michigan and South Carolina.

It’s not a unique approach, even among Republicans. New Jersey Gov. Chris ChristieChris ChristieChristie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group Christie: Biden's new vaccine mandate will 'harden opposition' Allies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid MORE (R), a centrist who might have trouble winning conservative votes, has made a point of visiting almost every state with an open primary.

Paul has a solid base among Tea Party conservatives and libertarians thanks to his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who ran for president three times — once on the Libertarian ticket and twice as a libertarian-leaning Republican.

But merely replicating his father’s showings would leave the Kentucky senator a long way short of the presidency.

“It looks to me as if he’s trying to position himself to go a step beyond where his father was. His father, whom I know and like, spent much of his life trying to build a libertarian movement but never really in my view contemplated becoming president,” said Vin Weber, a Republican strategist who served as a senior advisor to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Paul is making an argument about his electability in a general election by portraying himself as a conservative who can win over voters in the middle and even pick off members of core Democratic constituencies, such as African Americans.

“We need a bigger party,” Paul told a group of Republicans in South Carolina last year. “We need to reach out to people where they are. We need to be more diverse and look more like the American people. The message has to be broadened to reach more people.”

“If you look at the field, there are a lot of people vying for the base or the Tea Party end of the party without thinking about the middle. He’s thinking beyond the primary,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at The Cook Political Report.

“He needs to sort of fix the reputation he brought to the Senate,” she added. “He was [thought of as] very extreme, that he was a Tea Party guy.

“What Paul really wants to be is a guy who’s not easily defined,” she added.

Paul suggested in several 2010 interviews that the 1964 Civil Rights Act went too far in prohibiting private businesses from using racially discriminatory practices, even though he personally condemned such conduct.

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He also said at the time that he would have voted for the law and has contested any attempt to describe him as an opponent as a “mischaracterization.”  

Paul has since made a direct appeal to African-American voters by sponsoring a handful of bills aimed at criminal justice reform.

He and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have co-sponsored legislation that would help adults seal non-violent criminal records and automatically expunge the records of juvenile offenders who commit non-violent crimes before turning 15.

“It’s particularly smart because of the strict libertarian position with [regard] to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If he became identified with that point of view, which has surfaced every now and then, that’s death in more places than in just the African American [community],” Weber said.

Paul and Sen. Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, both support the FAIR Act, which would protect citizens from police seizures of property without due process of law. Paul argues asset forfeiture laws hit minorities disproportionately. 

Last month, he and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced legislation calling for an audit of the Pentagon. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another 2016 hopeful, also co-sponsored the measure.