Potential presidential contender Rand Paul came to South Carolina on Friday, saying he represents the wing of the Republican Party that believes in the Bill of Rights and is on the ascendancy.
The first-term senator from Kentucky, son of libertarian icon Ron Paul, said he’s thinking about running for the White House and wanted to meet Republicans in the state with the South’s first presidential primary.
He started his visit in Greenville, where he was the draw for a $1,500-a-couple fundraiser for the state GOP at Soby’s restaurant downtown. Paul also visited Spartanburg and Columbia to meet with activists, give a speech and take questions from reporters.
His visit two and a half years before South Carolina’s next presidential primary in 2016 is a reminder of the state’s importance in presidential politics, especially for Republicans.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who won the primary in 2012 only to lose the GOP nomination to Mitt Romney, returned to South Carolina in April, saying he might run for president again.
Gingrich also began a multiple-city tour in Greenville, South Carolina’s largest Republican county, with nearly 13 percent of the vote in the 2012 primary.
Matt Moore, the new chairman of the state GOP, said more potential presidential candidates are expected to visit South Carolina in coming months.
News reporters were barred from the fundraiser at Soby’s, but Paul, sporting a navy blazer and blue jeans, spoke with them along Main Street after emerging from the private lunchtime event. He took questions on a range of issues -- including immigration, privacy rights, and the future of the Republican Party -- during the sidewalk press conference and an earlier interview with GreenvilleOnline.com. at the downtown Hyatt.
Paul was thrust into the national spotlight in March when he staged a filibuster on the Senate floor to try and force the Obama administration to state whether its policy on military drones would permit the assassination of an American without trial.
Numerous Republican senators, including U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, expressed their support for Paul, but U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was critical, saying some senators had forgotten that the nation was at war with terrorists and that former President Bush had also employed drones.
Asked about Graham’s criticism on Friday, Paul said he sees two wings developing in the Republican Party “and those of us who believe in the Bill of Rights, who believe in the Fourth Amendment, are on the ascendancy, and I think history is going to show that it’s the rejuvenation of the Bill of Rights movement like this that is going to reinvigorate the Republican Party.”
Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said S.C.’s senior senator appreciates Paul raising money for the state GOP, which will help in 2014, when Graham and many other Republicans are up for re-election.
Greenville public affairs consultant Chip Felkel, a former Republican operative, said he found Paul’s remarks “a bit presumptuous.”
“To suggest that those who disagree with him don’t believe in the Bill of Rights is just the kind of attitude that will not grow the party,” Felkel said. Felkel said some libertarian-leaning South Carolinians may find Paul attractive, but probably not the state’s Republican voters as a whole.
Danielle Vinson, a professor of political science at Furman University, said it’s not clear whether the libertarian wing of the Republican Party that Paul represents will prevail over the “practical wing” represented by Graham.