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Rand Paul Set To Launch Republican Presidential Bid, Lure Liberal Voters

Alix Mattingly

Sen. Rand Paul is poised to launch a presidential bid in Louisville Tuesday morning.

Political experts say the campaign of Kentucky's junior U.S. Senator  will likely be very different than any other hopeful for the Republican nomination in 2016. The main difference: Paul has set his sights on liberal voters.

For the past several months, Paul has been touring the country holding town hall-style meetings, mostly in inner cities.

He’s talked to local leaders about issues such as restoring voting rights for felons, rising incarceration rates and how criminal justice policies disproportionately affect people of color.

Dewey Clayton, a professor at the University of Louisville, said Paul is trying to appeal to voters on the left-- instead of focusing solely on far right conservative voters, which is what Republican primary candidates typically do.

“He’s courting liberal voters,” he said. “He’s courting minorities. He’s courting young voters. He’s clearly saying the Republican tent needs to be larger.”

Clayton said using issues like restoring rights to felons whom served their time and taking a look at extreme sentencing guidelines could be pretty effective in setting him apart from other candidates, as well as draw in other voters.

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Clayton said that as a Libertarian, Paul has been able to champion some high profile issues that appeal to liberal voters --such as National Security Agency wire tapping, as well as issues like civil forfeiture laws.

However, Clayton also noted that there is some potential for this strategy to backfire, especially if some voters see this as pandering to minorities.

“The verdict is still as to whether he is doing this to court their vote or this is just a ploy since he is running for president,” he said.

Some voters who care about these issues are less likely to care about the reason Paul is highlighting them, though.

Michael Hiser, for example, is a former felon who served his time, got clean and now lives in Louisville and works with kids caught up in the juvenile justice system. He said he just wants politicians to take felon rights restoration seriously.

“Anyone who is fighting for that, I am down like four flat tires,” Hiser said in an interview.

That’s why Hiser said he thinks it’s a good idea for Paul to run on issues like criminal justice reform.

“It is effective for me for several reasons—A) because he is not just saying that we have been ignoring it for a long time,” Hiser explained. “What he is saying is that ‘hey it really affects and disenfranchises a large community of African Americans in Kentucky.’”

Just two days shy of Tuesday's announcement, Paul's campaign released a video hyping his conservative credentials, as well as highlighting the fact that he appeals to people across the aisle, including liberal icon Jon Stewart of The Daily Show.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efHGNzG3KJg]

Paul is also launching his campaign in Louisville—one of the state’s most liberal cities—instead of his more conservative hometown, Bowling Green.

Clayton said that’s also unexpected.

“That’s the interesting thing about Paul,” he said. “You really cannot pigeonhole him anywhere and that’s what makes him a new and interesting sort of candidate.”

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