Potential 2016 contender Rand Paul “clarifies” voter ID remarks

Senator Rand Paul
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)

The Politico reports that the junior Senator from Kentucky, considered a possible presidential contender in 2016, yesterday “clarified” remarks he made to the New York Times on voter ID which have been cause for concern among conservatives:

Sen. Rand Paul is clarifying his recent comments that Republicans should lay off voter ID laws, saying now that there’s nothing wrong with tackling the issue.

“There’s nothing wrong with it. … I don’t really object to having some rules with how we vote,” Paul said on the Sean Hannity radio show on Tuesday.

The Kentucky Republican said his earlier comments “kind of got overblown in the wrong way.”

Last week, Paul was quoted in The New York Times as critical of Republicans pursuing voter ID laws. “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” he told the paper at the time. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.”

On Hannity’s show, Paul, who has often talked about the need to develop a more inclusive and racially diverse Republican Party, said the GOP should should focus on its efforts to help minorities vote.

“I know about voter fraud and that there have to be rules and states have the ability to do it,” Paul said. “But I’ve also said Republicans should be emphasizing the good things we’re trying to do to try to help minorities vote instead of the things many minorities feel is directed at them, rightly or wrongly. … So I do object to overemphasizing something that is turning people off.”

His interview with the New York Times follows remarks the Senator made on April 22nd at a forum alongside Obama’s longtime adviser David Axelrod at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics in which he suggested Republicans “may have over-emphasized” voter fraud:

From the transcript:

PAUL: Dead people do still vote in some elections. There still is some fraud. And so we should stop that, and one way of doing it is (driver’s licenses).

AXELROD: Although the incidence of fraud is relatively small.

PAUL: It probably is, and I think Republicans may have over-emphasized this. I don’t know.

Paul did say that he supports voter ID efforts as a minimal standard and noted that you have to present an ID to enter government offices.

But he had a different view of calls by Republicans in some states to curtail early voting, which tends to favor Democrats more than Republicans.

“I don’t think early voting is biased one way or the other,” Paul said. “So I think eliminating it is a mistake for the — Republicans who want to make their whole thing eliminating early voting, I think that’s a mistake.”

Understandably, Paul’s comments – “poorly worded” or not – caused some friction among those of us who strongly support Voter ID laws who think the common sense measures enacted by states like North Carolina greatly cut back on the risk that voter fraud will happen.  I viewed what he said as a leg sweep, to be frank, because Paul  – to my knowledge – never really publicly delved much into the voter ID issue while states like mine and Texas were pushing to strengthen election laws already on the books and gaining national attention in the process.  Why start now?  In the spirit of “getting along” with the other side since Axelrod was sitting next to him in Chicago, one of the most notorious institutions of liberalism in the United States?

I have long said that I appreciated Paul’s efforts at trying to appeal to voters that the GOP has seemingly either given up on or don’t make as much effort at appealing to.  Paul has spoken to black pastors, traveled to Berkeley, has addressed Howard University students – all in an effort to find common ground and to try and break the bizarre stranglehold the left has on the youth vote and the black community. These efforts should be applauded, but just because you’re in front of people who you want to win over doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice principle in the process.  As I said on Twitter yesterday:

One of my biggest issues with high-profile GOP politicos is their penchant for doing this. I had believed Paul to be different but he’s stumbled a bit on this in the last month, both with what he said about Voter ID and the abortion issue. Paul rose to prominence on being a “different” kind of politician, taking unconventional approaches and stances (all without tossing principle to the side) in order to try and appeal to a cross-section of voters. If he continues to do what he’s done over the last month, he risks alienating people who support him and just becoming another rank and file politician who says and does whatever it takes to get their names in the headlines and, ultimately, re-elected. I hope that doesn’t happen.

Related: The Hill – Paul: Look for 2016 decision early next year

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