WEST COLUMBIA, SC — While playing coy about possible presidential plans, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., addressed a group of more than 150 South Carolina Republican Party donors Friday night at the State Farmers Market Friday.
Paul said his visit to South Carolina, whose “first in the South” primary chose every eventual Republican presidential nominee from its 1980 inception until the pattern was derailed by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in 2012, “could have something to do” with a run for president in 2016. He has previously said, however, that he will not make an official decision until 2014.
Paul’s address at the party’s Summer Barbecue focused heavily on his views on national defense, which some at the barbecue speculated could be a concern in a state with a military population as high as South Carolina.
But his comments put any concerns to rest and drew cheers from the crowd.
“National defense is the most important expense we make,” Paul said. “National defense spending should be a priority.”
The libertarian-leaning senator did, however, say that there is room for cuts throughout the nation’s budget – even for defense.
“There’s waste everywhere,” Paul said.
While some might initially balk at Paul’s suggestion, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said that many, including himself, had their concerns alleviated with a little explanation.
“He’s a stalwart for strong national defense, and he’s not afraid to say that there is waste that can be eliminated,” Wilson said. “He really did address the concern I have, which is his position on national defense. There was a misperception that he did not recognize national defense as the paramount function of government.”
A goal of Paul’s in the visit was to “clarify his position” on key issues, Wilson said.
Paul also discussed ideas for further saving money in the federal budget by conditionally cutting off foreign aid to Pakistan and Egypt, reducing non-military travel expenses by 25 percent and cutting the budget by 1 percent “across the board.”
While speculation about potential presidential candidates in 2016 is still rampant and the field is anything but clear, major South Carolina politicians said Paul has a shot, should he choose to run.
“He would obviously do well,” Wilson said, though he stopped short of an early endorsement. “I will be looking carefully when the time comes.”
While his politics may not appear completely congruent to those of the state’s Republicans, Paul shares more positions with them than one may think, S.C. Treasurer Curtis Loftis said.
“You scratch most South Carolina Republicans and you’ll find a little libertarian,” Loftis said.
In addition to the $40-a-plate barbecue, Paul headlined a 20-person lunch in Greenville earlier Friday, which fetched $1,500 a ticket. A fundraising total for Paul’s visit was not available Friday night.