Washington (CNN) – Sen. Rand Paul delivered a fervent plea Wednesday to expand the Republican Party and make the GOP more compassionate toward those "who aren't treated fairly by the criminal justice system," noting African-Americans and Hispanics in particular.
Speaking to a group of conservatives, the Kentucky Republican and potential 2016 presidential candidate also acknowledged a rift within the party over budgetary issues and civil liberties.
"People say, 'Oh Republicans shouldn't fight.' I disagree. There's a struggle, and there should be a struggle to make the party better," he said, while headlining the Coalitions for America's Weyrich Awards Dinner in Washington.
The libertarian-leaning senator has been aggressively preaching the need for a broader GOP - ideologically and racially. The senator, whose outreach efforts have not gone unnoticed by the political class, invoked Ronald Reagan as a major figure who made the party "bigger and better."
"He appealed to all kinds of people," Paul said.
"We don't dilute or give up our message; we need to extend our message to people who haven't been listening to us. To me, that's a message that may have a libertarian twist," he said, emphasizing a focus on "liberty and the Bill of Rights."
While he blasts the Obama administration over wasteful spending, Paul has been working with Attorney General Eric Holder on reducing mandatory minimums on nonviolent drug offenders.
"[Some] American communities are disproportionately affected by the war on drugs," he said. "Everybody does drugs at about the same rate, but your prisons are full of African Americans and Hispanics, and it's unjust."
Paul noted the party is already known for supporting limited government, but he added the GOP could also be known for something else.
"Why don't we be the party that has some compassion for people who aren't being treated fairly by the criminal justice system?"
Paul's comments came before a friendly audience on the eve of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a major gathering for conservatives each year in Washington. His comments will be closely watched as he has picked up some momentum in Republican presidential polls.
A CNN/ORC International Poll released last month indicated 13% of Republicans would support the senator in the GOP primary if he runs for president. He was second only to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who got 14% support.