There was no declaration of candidacy for president Friday night when Rand Paul appeared before a large crowd at the Hamilton County Republican Party’s Lincoln-Reagan Day dinner, but he sounded like a man who may well run.
And, before a crowd of over 600 at the Duke Energy Convention Center, the junior senator from Kentucky made it clear that if he does run and becomes the 2016 GOP nominee, he knows who his Democratic opponent will be – former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Paul went straight after Clinton, laying the blame for the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans at Clinton’s door step.
“I think Hillary Clinton has precluded herself from ever being commander in chief,’’ the 51-year senator said. “She was in charge and nothing was ever done to provide security.”
Paul accused Clinton of “dereliction of duty” for not reading cables from U.S. officials in Libya asking for more security in the months before the attacks.
“Hillary Clinton turned down a 16-member security team for Benghazi, saying there was no money,’’ Paul said. “But she did find the money to send a team of comics to India for something called the ‘Make Chai, Not War’ tour.”
Paul, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 with tea party support, is at or near the top of national polls of potential candidates for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
At Friday night’s dinner, he was introduced to the enthusiastic GOP crowd by Ohio’s junior senator, Rob Portman, who has been talked about as a potential GOP presidential contender himself.
Paul’s presence was a huge draw for the local party’s major fundraiser of the year. Hamilton County GOP chairman Alex Triantafilou said it was the largest crowd in the history of the Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner.
And the fact that it took place in Hamilton County, which, along with the heavily Republican southwest Ohio counties that surround it, will play a major role in the 2016 Ohio presidential primary, was an indication that Paul considers Ohio important to his chances of winning the GOP nomination should be decide to run.
Paul is a hardcore fiscal conservative; and tends toward the libertarian philosophy of his father, former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Friday night, he was highly critical of a law which gives the president the power to detain American citizens suspected of terrorism without trial.
“If an American citizen can be sent to Guantanamo, without lawyers, without trial, aren’t we concerned about that much power accumulating in one person?,’’ Paul said.
Paul told the Cincinnati area Republicans that “we need a bigger party.”
“Some say dilute your message and become more Democratic, to draw Democrats and independents,’’ Paul said. “I couldn’t disagree more. Our message is a good message.”
He called for the overhaul of the federal tax system and said he would like to see the U.S. go to a flat tax.
Paul told the crowd he recently went to the University of California at Berkeley, famous for its liberal student body, and delivered the same speech there that he delivered in March to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where he won CPAC’s presidential straw poll for the second year in a row.
“The young folks at Berkeley were excited about my message about privacy and keeping the NSA (National Security Agency) out of people’s phone records,’’ Paul said. “If we take these messages to new people, I think we have a chance. We need to proclaim our message.”
Bob Saul of Montgomery, a long-time party activist, said he agrees with Paul on most issues, but said he knows that there will be a large field of GOP presidential candidates to choose from, all with different points of view.
“I think the party is doing everything it can to keep us together as a party in 2016,’’ Saul said. “I don’t think we will have the blood-letting we have had in the past.”
Paul spoke at the very beginning of the dinner; and then left quickly to drive back to his home in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Paul told the Associated Press he will be returning to Cincinnati in July to speak to the National Urban League Conference, a major African-American organization which is holding its annual meeting her