HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Potential presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul said Friday night that the Republican Party could lure young voters if it focuses on privacy issues following the revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance techniques.
Speaking at a fundraiser for the Arkansas Republican Party, the Kentucky lawmaker said the questions about the spying techniques could help the party expand its appeal as it tries to win back the White House in two years. Paul has said he's considering seeking the Republican nomination for president.
"We need young people in the party. The president won the youth vote three to one," Paul said. "Since we've had the different spying scandals, I think if there were a Republican who stood up for privacy, who stood up for the Fourth Amendment, I think the young people will come back to us."
President Barack Obama in January ordered new limits on the way intelligence officials access phone records from hundreds of millions of Americans — and moved toward eventually stripping the massive data collection from the government's hands. The new limits came in the wake of national and international backlash following a wave of leaks from former NSA analyst Edward Snowden.
Paul, a critic of the NSA's techniques, waged a nearly 13-hour Senate filibuster last year to protest the use of drones. He cited the scandals as he urged the party find ways to expand its appeal to more voters. Paul said expanding the party's appeal would be key to winning the presidency.
"I do recognize that I'm in a position where I do have a chance so we really are considering it," he said. "I also think if we do the same thing we've always done, we're not going to win. So it has to be different. It has to have a different twist."
Paul spoke as Arkansas Republicans are gearing up for an election where they believe they can build on recent gains in the state. Republicans believe they're poised to unseat U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation.
Paul praised Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who announced in August he was challenging Pryor. He also defended Cotton's vote against the farm bill earlier this week, a measure that the rest of the state's Republican House delegation supported.
"I told people when I ran, I wasn't running to bring them stuff from Washington, I was running to leave their money in their own hands," Paul told reporters before his speech. "To farmers in Arkansas, to farmers in Kentucky, I would say — and I'm guessing Congressman Cotton would say the same thing — we're for leaving more money in the hands of Arkansas farmers. I'm for leaving more money in the hands of Kentucky farmers."
Pryor and Cotton have been engaged in an expensive television war, with the two rivals and allied groups bombarding the state's airwaves with ads. Cotton has derided Pryor for supporting the federal health care overhaul, while Pryor is stepping up his criticism over Cotton's opposition to the farm bill.
State Democrats sought to link Paul and Cotton ahead of the Kentucky senator's speech, blaming the two for the standoff that led to the 16-day federal government shutdown last year.
"Their reckless agenda is out of step with Arkansans," the party said in a news release.
Paul said that Republicans still need to be willing to fight the president on spending issues, particularly over the debt ceiling.
"We shouldn't shut down the government, but we shouldn't just give him a blank check to get whatever he wants," he said. "We do have to make a stand. We do have to make a stand and say enough is enough."