(CNN) – Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who's considering a 2016 presidential bid, made a pitch for his party Wednesday at the historically black Howard University, arguing why the GOP and African Americans should fall in the same column.
"I came to Howard today not to preach and to prescribe to you some special formula, but to say I want a government that leaves you alone," the Kentucky senator said. "My hope is that you'll hear me out. You're going to see me for who I am and not a caricature that's sometimes presented by political opponents."
Follow @politicalticker Follow @KilloughCNN
Paul acknowledged that his visit was uncommon–he was the first major Republican to address the school since Colin Powell gave a speech in 1994–and seemed to embrace the fact that he was speaking before what he presumed to be a largely Democratic audience.
"Some have said that I'm either brave or crazy to be here today," he said. "I've never been, though, one to sit by and watch the world go by without participating."
His address comes just weeks after the GOP rolled out its plan to better connect with minority voters, including African Americans. The Republican National Committee will spend $10 million on staff members to communicate conservative principles in cities across the country, one of the many decisions it made following the party's major loss among minority voters in the presidential election.
President Obama won 93% of the African American vote last year, and 95% in 2008.
At Howard, the first-term senator ticked through the Republican Party's history with African Americans and civil rights, referencing President Abraham Lincoln, emancipation, and adding that the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were Republican. He ran through Republican fights for civil and voting rights, as well.
"How did the party that elected the first black U.S. senator, the party that elected the first 20 African American congressmen, how did that party become the party that now loses 95% of the black vote? How did the Republican Party, the party of the great emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race?" he asked.
The audience seemed generally receptive to his remarks. They laughed at his jokes and gave brief applause when he said he would fight to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, as well as when he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.
At one point, his speech was interrupted when two African American males held up a banner that said "Howard does not support white supremacy." Three security guards grabbed the protesters, and struggled with them as they were escorted out of the room. Other than that, the environment was largely cordial.
"Some have concluded that Republicans are somehow inherently insensitive to minority rights. Nothing could be further from the truth," Paul argued. "Republicans do indeed still believe many rights remain with the people and the states respectively."
Paul staunchly defended his support of civil and voting rights, saying he's never "wavered" on the issue. During his Senate campaign in 2010, however, Paul took heat for repeatedly dodging questions about whether he thinks parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act amounted to a constitutional overreach. The senator briefly referenced the controversy Wednesday, saying the dispute is over "how much of the remedy should come under federal, or state, or private purview."
One student in the audience, Julian K. Lewis, a senior, told CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper that Paul's appearance gave the senator more credibility.
"I think Rand Paul won everyone in the room over when he made the announcement that he was going to come and speak to Howard University students because we know throughout the years, the Republican Party has blatantly ignored and disrespected the African American community," Lewis said, though he added he wasn't too convinced by Paul's message.
During his speech, Paul put forth his own theory on why Republicans lost favor among African Americans. He argued they became "impatient" during the Great Depression because "they wanted economic emancipation."
Republican policies, he said, aren't as tangible and don't "put food on the table" as quickly as Democratic polices. But the GOP believes that free market principles go beyond that by creating jobs and a more stable economy in the long run, he said.
He went on to articulate the party's stance on education and national security, saying not all Republicans are the war hawks the party became known for last decade.
Most of all, Paul argued, the party has failed to talk about the "great history and interaction between the Republican Party and black history and voting rights in our country."
"It's an uphill battle for me to try to convince you that we haven't changed, but that's part of me being here, that's what I'm trying to do anyway," he said.
– CNN's Steve Brusk and Matt Hoye contributed to this report.
And as far as handouts, go check your local trailer park.
Bravo. Frederic Douglas Republicans. look into it. see for yourself. freedom
Black voters should be wary of promises made by Sen Rand Paul. He is a Libertarian and does not speak for everyone in the Republican Party, especially Tea Partiers and social conservatives. Just look at all the comments about "hand outs and living off the government."
freedom – Do us all a favor, you ignorant, illiterate little troll, leave the country you despise so much, or better yet, go eat a bullet.
a lot of cry babies on here. no substance. Frederic Douglas republicans. see, learn, discuss,debate. name calling is silly.
"I do hope a better connection happens – more knowledge on what the conservatives stand for – work ethic, family unity, freedom, independence to achieve and grow, faith in God – all values that the African American community embrace. This president had the most incredible opportunity to bring us together more as a nation – and he has done the total opposite! Division on every level – including, of all things – race. Shameful. He may be the first African American (half) president, but his legacy will not be one of unity, harmony, or evolution as a nation. He chose to go 1000 steps backwards."
1. "They don't like us because they just don't know us" is wrongheaded and the wrong conclusion. Starting from that premise will get the GOP/teatrolls nowhere. It's an excuse...a rationalization that all you have to do is message better without actually changing the substance of the message. The GOP/Teatrolls have to accept that the substance of the message must change before anything they do or say will work.
2. Your attack on Obama as "divisive" alienates minority voters across the board. Nobody with a brain in their head thinks the GOP's/Teatrolls' electoral games with Voter IDs, redistricting, attenuating early voting times (especially removing Sundays), etc etc ....or the birtherism and "he's a secret muslim" crap and all the rest...nobody thinks those were anything other than a gigantic racist freakout response to the election of a black man as POTUS and demographic shifts that are taking away white majority. "Outreach" does not consist of smiling politely while you tell people "you should vote for us...but we're going to mess with your right to vote just in case."
@Rick McDaniel – All THEY want..........is hand outs
Hey, Rick, don't you have a kkklan meeting or skinhead rally to attend? You should know that people of ALL races, religions, and other backgrounds share in the welfare system. So, put down your government cheese and stop acting like you're not one of them.
This should be a big laugh in the Political arena . Runt Raul is going to get the jump on a fellow GOP'er Runt Rubio on the GOP political football field.to run for President. The dems can thow a dart at a dart board and get a candidate to whip the Gop candidates.I am sure the minorities are lining up to vote GOP already.
All the GOP has to do is have a candidate that the public views as "a GOP black sheep" or part of "the new, improved GOP". Maybe even have a latino or colored person that is electable. When it comes down to it, the general public votes for the person, not the party. All the GOP has to do is produce a candidate that is more likable than the Democratic candidate. Then, this whole death of the GOP thing is over....which the GOP dying because a Democrat got two whole terms is about the stupidest notion ever anyway.
@Tea Party Thomas
You forgot one –
End of Tea Party 2017 (better known as a bunch of clowns running around in tri-corner hats, waving guns and generally acting like idiots)
40 years of a party platform based of of the Southern strategy might be a reason people see racism abound in the Republican party.
"During his speech, Paul put forth his own theory on why Republicans lost favor among African Americans."
Oh, good. Popcorn time.
I notice he didn't mention in his speech where he stated during a recent interview that he is still OK with segregation as it applies to business owners and how business owners ought to be allowed to run their businesses (and customers) however they see fit, including limiting their association (and business) with whomever they feel disinclined to offer services to.
As a African American Sen. Paul, I watched the interview you gave on TRMS, and I will never vote for you or the republican party if they hold the views that you had during that interview.
@anonymous. We are NOT a stupid people!! The treatment of our duly elected mixed race POTUS was a helluva eye opener! If they don't like him and he's half white, what the hell do the rest of us have coming??? Have you heard the things they say about him?? A Harvard graduate!! Black people better wake the hell up!
When were they ever connected to African Americans? GOP=FAIL