After being bumped from the main debates in early January due to low polling numbers, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul took full advantage of his primetime slot at Thursday night’s Republican debate.
Although a recent Public Policy Polling survey found Paul polling around 4% in Iowa, far behind the leading contenders Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, the Kentucky physician took on the absent front-runner’s role as the unpredictable truth-teller with the potential of capturing the attention of fringe voters.
Spurred by noisy applause from supporters in the crowd, Paul painted himself as the candidate who could capture the “liberty vote” in Iowa, bouncing from social conservative causes like abortion, which he said is “always wrong” to bipartisan issues like criminal justice reform.
“I think it would be better the more — the less abortions we have, so the more states that we have that made abortion illegal, the better, as far as trying to save and preserve lives,” Paul said, drawing the ire of Planned Parenthood, which issued a rapid response blasting the Senator’s statements.
At another point in the debate, Paul spoke at length about the status of Ferguson, Mo., site of unrest in 2014 that catapulted the #BlackLivesMatter movement to the mainstream.
“I’ve been to Ferguson, I’ve been trying to look for solutions to our criminal justice problem,” Paul said. “I think something has to change. I think it’s a big thing that our party needs to be part of, and I’ve been a leader in Congress on trying to bring about criminal justice reform.”
The senator didn’t waste any opportunity to swipe at his rivals either. Early in the debate, he took jabs at Sen. Ted Cruz over a procedural vote to increase oversight of the Federal Reserve Bank and his support for legislation permitting the National Security Agency to collect data.
“I don’t think Ted can have it both ways,” Paul said. “[Cruz’s campaign] want to say they’re getting some of the liberty vote. But we don’t see it happening at all.”
Paul did not, however, bite an opportunity to drag former President Bill Clinton into the conversation for his prior indiscretions suggesting instead that Hillary Clinton shouldn’t have to answer for her husband’s sins.
“I don’t think she’s responsible for his behavior,” Paul said. “But I do think that her position as promoting women’s rights and fairness to women in the workplace, that if what Bill Clinton did any CEO in our country did with an intern, with a 22-year- old, 21-year-old intern in their office, they would be fired. They would never be hired again.”
Despite his less than spectacular standing in the polls, Paul signaled Thursday he’s not ready to give up the fight. But in the end, he used his final pitch to the public to explain to voters his personal views on entering the race, rather than taking an opportunity to appeal to voters in Iowa. While other candidates brought up Sept. 11, blasted Hillary Clinton, and the Bible, Paul stuck to what he knows.
“I’ve gotten to do some incredible things. Got to be on the floor of the Senate. And it has been amazing to me,” Paul said. “But the thing that is most important to me and caused me to run for office is I’m worried about the country and how much debt we’re adding.”