MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Rand Paul wasn't a conventional Republican when he won a U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky, and he's not mapping out a predictable strategy as he ponders a 2016 bid for the White House.
Paul confirmed Friday that he will announce his intentions in April or May, and then he spent the day displaying an ideological and political balancing act.
"We have to be a bigger party," he told Alabama Republicans at a fundraising gala Friday evening. "I want to take that message across America. I've shown I'll go anywhere."
He takes with him the small-government libertarianism of his father, former congressman and failed presidential candidate Ron Paul. But the senator also mixes in frequent references to his "Christian faith" as he courts cultural conservatives who were wary of his father.
There's the usual blistering of President Barack Obama and his executive orders, but Paul reminds his partisan audiences that the expansion of presidential authority has spanned decades, through administrations of both major parties.
Paul calls for the conservative "boldness" of Ronald Reagan and offers GOP orthodoxy on tax and spending cuts, making him a tea party darling.
He talks tough on national defense, but also staged an actual Senate filibuster — talking for hours on the chamber floor, rather than just using procedural paper delays — to protest the American government's use of drones.
Meanwhile, he chides Republicans to reach into the cities for non-white votes that have eluded the GOP — by particularly wide margins in Obama's two national victories. And Paul champions criminal-justice reform and plugs his work with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a black Democrat, on the issue.
It adds up to a politician who is difficult to put into a box.
"Maybe a different kind of Republican might be the kind of Republican that can win," Paul told reporters Friday in Kentucky.
The same approach got him his current job when he won the 2010 Senate race by dispatching a primary rival who had the backing of Kentucky's senior senator, Mitch McConnell. Just four years later, it was McConnell turning to Paul for an endorsement in his own re-election. It worked, as McConnell beat back his own tea party challenger and went on to a comfortable general-election margin.
But Paul makes sure that his audiences don't identify him too much with his Kentucky colleague, who is now the Senate majority leader, or the rest of the GOP establishment.
In Alabama, Paul celebrated his role in an October 2013 government shutdown, which ended when McConnell and Democrats negotiated a deal.
"In Washington, everybody was clamoring, everybody was worrying," Paul said. "I went back home to Kentucky, and you know what they said? 'Why the hell did you open it back up?'"
During 30 minutes at the podium, Paul focused most heavily on his small-government, anti-tax credentials. Though he repeated his call to expand the GOP's reach into minority communities, he did not get into the related policy details that he highlighted earlier in Kentucky.
In Louisville, Paul highlighted legislation he co-sponsored with Booker — his New Jersey colleague — that would allow juveniles charged with nonviolent crimes to expunge their criminal records.
It is similar to other proposals Paul has pushed, including restoring voting rights to some nonviolent convicted felons and eliminating federal mandatory minimum sentences for some drug charges.
He also has touted legislation that would lower federal taxes in certain economically depressed areas, notably the mostly minority-populated west end area of Louisville, one of the city's poorest areas.
"I have a proposal that would leave $600 million in the west end, not money we would send from anywhere, just simply the businesses that are already in the west end: Don't tax them — or lower their taxes dramatically," Paul said.
Another topic Paul avoided in Alabama: same-sex marriage, a contentious issue in the state after a federal judge recently paved the way for same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses.
Paul has said previously that states should be able to define marriage. That position could put him at odds with some of his father's ardent libertarian backers who believe a "small government" wouldn't block consenting adults from marrying.
Yet saying anything else could alienate the kinds of conservatives who helped fill the Montgomery ballroom.
Among them was Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who encouraged probate judges in the state to resist the federal order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex applicants. When he was recognized shortly after Paul's speech, Moore received considerable applause.
Associated Press Writer Adam Beam in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/BillBarrowAP