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Rand Paul's Minority Outreach Efforts Hit Snag With Baltimore Comments

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Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, at Inspirational Grounds in Buckner.

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul’s efforts to appeal to minority voters hit a rough patch over the past week.

The junior senator from Kentucky made some off-hand comments during the peak of unrest in the city of Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray—a black man who died in police custody. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby recently said there is probable cause to file criminal homicide charges against six police officers following Gray’s death.

Paul told a conservative talk show host Tuesday he was glad his train didn’t make a stop in Baltimore during the riots and protests there.

There was almost immediate backlash, mostly from minority groups.

But later in the week, Paul said there was nothing to apologize for.

“My comments I think were misinterpreted in some ways,” he told reporters during a small event in Buckner on Friday.

According to The New York Times, he made a similar statement during a campaign stop in Fort Mitchell for a roundtable discussion with minority Chamber of Commerce groups at the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Paul insists his record on reaching out to minorities—namely black voters—is solid. He said he continues to push for criminal justice reform, which has a big impact on minority voters.

“I think we have a great record on this and we’ll continue [to],” he said. “I have a bill with Harry Reid to restore voting rights. I have testified in favor of restoring voting rights in Frankfort in the state capitol. So, no, I am quite proud of my record.”

The importance of appealing to minority voters isn’t lost on Paul’s supporters, either.

During the small meet-and-greet event at Inspirational Grounds Coffee Shop in Buckner, a supporter asked him what he was doing to appeal to independent and Democratic voters—voters he will likely need to win a general election.

Paul told the man criminal justice issues remain the cornerstone of that effort and even cited Baltimore as a reason why.

“We’ve got this unease in our youth and you are seeing it now in Baltimore,” he said. “There is no excuse for the rioting. There is no excuse for any of that, but we do have to figure out a way for those who aren’t doing very well to figure out a way forward for them.”

During the same event, Paul also dismissed results of a recent poll that found he was having a hard time gaining traction with young voters—a demographic that has also typically voted Democratic.

Paul has been campaigning throughout the early presidential caucus states in the past several weeks. He was in Kentucky for two campaign events and also mentioned plans to attend the Kentucky Derby that same weekend.