WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul reaches out in his most direct way yet to African-Americans in a new book that highlights his libertarian policies on government surveillance, the economy and criminal justice reform.
"My party has let the bond it once enjoyed with minorities fray to the point that it is near beyond repair," the Kentucky senator writes in "Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America," set to be released later this month. He continued, "My Republican Party, the Republican Party I hope to lead to the White House, is willing to change."
Paul, 52, has made reaching out to African-Americans a centerpiece of his political brand as he embarks on his 2016 campaign for president. More than a decade has passed since the Republican Party last won a presidential contest, due in part to the GOP's struggle with minority voters, a growing segment of the population that has overwhelmingly favored Democrats in recent years.
President Barack Obama won 93 percent of the black vote in 2012, continuing his party's overwhelming advantage with black voters that began when Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The trend is similar among Hispanic voters, who have preferred Democrats by at least 18 points in every presidential contest since at least 1980.
"I don't think we've done enough of taking our message to people, and I don't think we've brought our message in an appropriate way," Paul said Thursday of the GOP's minority outreach during an interview with The Associated Press. "I think also there's a uniqueness to my message within the Republican Party that allows me to go places that nobody else is either willing to go or able to go."
The new book, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, comes as Paul plays a starring role in the debate over government surveillance. He spent hours on the Senate floor Wednesday protesting the planned extension of the Patriot Act, which includes a provision allowing the National Security Agency to collect bulk records of phone calls made by Americans.
Many Republicans support the surveillance program, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, whose description of Paul as a "wacko bird" is featured prominently on the book's back cover.
In the book, Paul writes that such surveillance programs allowed the government to spy on prominent civil rights leaders in the past, most notably Martin Luther King Jr. He said he raised such concerns during a private meeting last February with then-Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African-American to hold that office.
"Surveillance was used to try to cripple the civil rights movement. You would think this president above all others would be mindful of the potential for abuse in allowing so much power to gravitate to the NSA," he wrote, referring to President Barack Obama, the nation's first black president. "Holder nodded his understanding but was noncommittal."
He said he later challenged Holder more directly. "How could our first African American president condone pervasive spying on Americans?" Paul asked, to which he said Holder responded, "Let's just say the administration's position on the NSA is not monolithic."
"He left it at that, which only left me with more questions," Paul wrote. "Did the attorney general mean he was against the spying? If so, why was his voice falling on deaf ears?"
Holder, who recently left his position as the nation's top law enforcement officer, did not respond to a request for comment about Paul's description of the meeting.
Paul also criticizes former President George W. Bush for adopting the Patriot Act following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, charging that "because of President Bush's overreach, the Bill of Rights protection of our privacy began to fall apart." He adds that Obama has further shredded such protections.
"Power needs to be reined in, because we never know when a leader will arise who will use the power to target Jews or blacks or evangelical Christians or the tea party or any other minority," he wrote.
Paul won praise from black leaders as one of the only members of Congress to visit Ferguson, Missouri, after police shot to death an unarmed black man last year. But he was widely criticized for his comments after racial violence erupted more recently in Baltimore, when he said in a television interview he was "glad the train didn't stop" as he passed through the city.
Paul writes at length about his support for criminal justice reform, which includes ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders and restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons. He also opposes the use of military weapons by local police departments and supports the creation of economic freedom zones with low tax rates in depressed urban areas.
"Although I was born into the America that experiences and believes in opportunity, my trips to Ferguson and Detroit and Atlanta and Chicago have revealed to me an undercurrent of unease," he wrote. "I want to be part of a united America in which every child, rich or poor, black or white, truly believes that they have a chance at the American Dream."
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