Rand Paul Preaches Compassion at Iowa Race Track

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Rand Paul attempted to appeal to Christian voters in Iowa Friday, but was careful not too wade too deeply into faith on the stump.

Speaking at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum in Knoxville, Iowa, Friday morning, Paul was introduced by a Pella pastor and worked in discussions of his religion with his usual anti-surveillance, anti-interventionist speech.

“I think we also need to be a party that shows that we have compassion for people who are down on their luck,” the Kentucky Senator said, standing in front of racing helmets and trophies before a crowd of about 50 people. “Do we need to be big spending liberals on this? No. But I think we need to have compassion for people who are down on their luck and aren’t doing well… Most of us are Christians and believe in redemption and believe in a second chance.”

He used this idea of redemption to talk about criminal justice reform, and reducing sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses.

He also tied Christianity to his foreign policy views, the topic on which he splits most drastically from his other Republican opponents. “I think when we talk about foreign policy, most of us are pro-life,” he said. “Think about the 2 million Christians over there,” he continued. “There are 2 million Christians in Syria protected by Assad. Do you really think it’s going to help the Christians if we bomb Assad?”

It is Paul’s dovish foreign policy views that attracted Pella resident Esther Roorda, 54, to him. “I think one of the biggest things that attracts me is his stance on foreign policy and it’s so different from everybody else,” she said. When asked who her second choice candidate would be, she replied, “There isn’t really one, because I don’t know anybody else who has the same stand he has on foreign policy. … It bothers me that Republicans are so hawkish. I think we ought to be the party for peace and negotiation.”

Still, despite Paul’s introduction by a faith leader and his attempts to appeal to religious voters, he was delicate on the topic and careful not to generalize Iowa faith voters.

“I guess I don’t see things as sort of blocs,” he said speaking to members of the media after the event, when asked if he thinks he’ll be able to draw religious voters away from candidates like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “I think probably 99% percent of Iowa is Christian or 98% is Christian, so I don’t see this block of people that are Christian and the rest aren’t Christians. I guess I just see everybody, or most, having a common religion, but then people having different issues that motivate them in different ways.”

(Actually, around four out of five Iowans are Christians, according to the Pew Research Center.)

With that guiding philosophy, when a member of the audience specifically asked him how he would swing faith voters away from Cruz, who has worked consistently to make inroads with the evangelical community, Paul stuck to the issues. “Ultimately my main difference with him … is that I believe that he’s like the rest on the stage in that he’s not fiscally conservative,” Paul said.

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Write to Tessa Berenson / Knoxville, Iowa at tessa.Rogers@time.com