Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, addressed an audience made up of members of both the town and College communities this past Saturday, Apr. 25, as part of his presidential campaign tour of Iowa. Speaking to a packed room at the Drake Community Library, Paul was introduced by the former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau as the candidate who was “best for agriculture.” In light of this claim, Paul spent his time in town speaking about drug laws, the National Security Agency and global investment.
After taking pictures with the past-capacity crowd in front of an American flag and Rand Paul background, Paul showed a short campaign video of his wife, Kelley Ashby Paul, describing how they met and his motivations behind becoming an ophthalmologist and running for president.
In greeting the Grinnell College crowd heavily represented at the rally, Paul joked, “I heard half of you guys have perfect SATs and the other half just knew somebody on the board.” Paul attempted to appeal to college attendees by discussing topics such as the difficulty of finding jobs post-grad and dealing with student debt. Adhering more to Libertarian rhetoric, Paul supported a message of smaller government and minimal intervention, which was heavily stressed on Saturday.
Paul spent a considerable amount of time speaking about the importance of the Bill of Rights for American Society, a popular topic for most Republican candidates seeking the party nomination.
“The Bill of Rights are not so much for the prom queen, are not so much for the high school quarterback,” Paul said.
Absent from his speech was a discussion of social issues. Despite previously displaying decisive opinions on a variety of social topics, Paul seemed to focus less on his views, which can be more polarizing with an audience.
He focused on the idea of liberty and how he feels the U.S. government has strayed from its founding principles and how the American people have become unsafe under the Obama administration.
One of ten Republican candidates currently reported to be in the running for the presidency, Paul visited Grinnell a week after officially announcing his run and speaking at the University of Iowa.
Paul heavily criticized the actions America has taken in Libya in response to the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011.
“Shiite and Sunni have been at each others’ throats for a thousand years. We decided, or primarily Hillary Clinton decided this and the president, that we needed to go war in Libya to topple Gaddafi, but what you have to ask yourself is are we safer now than we were before that,” Paul said.
Supporters outside the event sold buttons bearing the phrase “Benghazi Matters,” referring to a raid in the Libyan city of Benghazi by Islamic militants on the American embassy that resulted in the deaths of four Americans working for the U.S. government. Paul heavily stressed his sense that this event bears importance for the 2016 election.
“Gaddafi suppressed radical Islam, Gaddafi kept them at bay. Now that Gaddafi is gone, our ambassador’s dead … it is such a chaotic situation that at least a third of Libya has pledged allegiance to ISIS,” Paul said.
The Iowa for Rand Paul campaign, an organization promoting the Kentucky senator in Iowa for the 2016 campaign, supported and organized the event. Jonathan Jackson of Des Moines was among the volunteers taking tickets, handing out free stickers and t-shirts, and signing up volunteers.
“I’m looking forward to helping him spread the message of liberty and getting voters and caucus goers here in Iowa engaged,” Jackson said. “We have a really good indication that liberty and his message is really popular, because in 2012 we had a great ambassador called Ron Paul for the message of liberty and he got 20 percent of the caucus vote, so I think that Rand Paul can not only build on that voter base, but that he can win with that message.”
The caucuses will take place Feb. 1 of 2016, the first time since 2004 that the College will be in session for such an event.
As for Grinnell students attending the event, most seemed unimpressed with the message Paul touted.
“I went to see Rand Paul this weekend because I was interested in what he was going to present to the Grinnell community,” said Emily Hughes ’18. “I thoughtthat making the move to kind of insult the Grinnell students was a bad move considering that was two-thirds of his audience. I was kind of disappointed in how quickly he left because there was no opportunity for feedback or questions.”
The Kentucky senator could not be reached for comments via email.