Paul fires up libertarian students in Duluth campaign stop
Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul portrayed himself as a political outsider at a Duluth campaign rally Monday, riling up a crowd of about 250 people as he sharply criticized lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
The Kentucky senator called for lower taxes, reduced government spending and limited military intervention in the Middle East during a 20-minute stump speech at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
"I want a government so small that I can barely see it," Paul said, repeating a popular line he delivered in the last Republican primary debate and drawing applause from the audience of primarily college students.
Paul criticized both major parties for what he deemed an "unholy alliance" — compromises that he said are responsible for the national debt soaring to nearly $19 trillion.
"The right wants a blank check for the military; the left wants a blank check for welfare," he said. "What do you think they do? They get together and they do a secret handshake and they raise both."
Paul, a libertarian-leaning candidate who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, also took aim at military policies in the Middle East. He dubbed Republican rival Marco Rubio and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton "neoconservatives," arguing that they both want expanded — and unnecessary — intervention that only leads to further instability for the region.
He told the audience that the military resurgence in Iraq is the result of a 2001 vote authorizing action in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Should we be at perpetual war without the representatives ever voting?" he asked. "You know what they say is the justification for it? A vote that your representatives took really when most of you guys were just little kids."
Paul has failed to gain much traction in the Republican opinion polls since joining the presidential race in April, but has consistently drawn support from college students.
A year before the general election, Minnesota has not seen much campaigning from presidential hopefuls. Paul's visit was the first by a 2016 presidential candidate to the Northland.
It was part of a swing through the state a day ahead of the fourth Republican primary debate in Milwaukee. Paul also held rallies in Minneapolis and Rochester on Monday, along with a private fundraiser in Orono.
Minnesota's caucus is relatively early — March 1 — and it could be a chance for Paul to seize support.
His father, former U.S. Rep Ron Paul, faired well in the last two Republican presidential caucuses in Minnesota, finishing second in the popular vote and capturing most of the state's delegates in 2012.
Paul told reporters after the rally that he believes he would win the support of the state's independent voters over presumptive Democratic nominee Clinton.
"We think we do have an appeal that goes across party lines," he said. "I think I'm the only Republican in the field who could actually compete in Minnesota."
Monday's rally was organized in collaboration with the Students for Rand group at UMD, which president Steve Aro said is about 58 members strong.
"I think we're just kind of sick of the same-old, same-old," Aro, a UMD senior, said after the rally. "A lot of politicians like to play it off like they're different or anti-establishment, but they don't back it up."
Paul spent a portion of speech addressing education and taxes, taking particular aim at Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist who has called for free public college tuition.
Paul contended that policy is unrealistic without implementing a 70 or 80 percent business tax or printing more money, driving up prices in the economy.
"Our appetite is big," he said. "We want stuff and we don't want to pay for it. We want the government to give us more free stuff. 'Let's have free healthcare! Why not free cars? Why not free houses? Let's have everything free.' Someone's gotta work for that."
Adam Peterson, a junior studying economics at UMD, was impressed by Paul's viewpoints.
"His economic policy will bring jobs back to America with freer markets and less intervention in the Middle East," he said. "I thought he was very polished today, and his message definitely will resonate with a lot of the libertarian youth movement, which is kind of becoming a trend on college campuses."
Tyler Johnson, 20, traveled from Elk River, Minn., to hear Paul speak. He called it a "dream come true" to meet the senator, who he has idolized for about five years.
"He's what really got me into politics," Johnson said. "I love his views. He's so energetic and genuine. So different from the current establishment."