U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky headlined the Iowa Republican Party’s Lincoln Dinner Friday night in Cedar Rapids. Paul is a likely 2016 presidential candidate.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky headlined the Iowa Republican Party’s Lincoln Dinner Friday night in Cedar Rapids. Paul is a likely 2016 presidential candidate.
May 13, 2013

Cedar Rapids

Two Republicans who could top the 2016 ticket in Iowa offered strikingly similar messages on strategy during a major party event Friday night in Cedar Rapids.

Former State Rep. Rod Roberts of Carroll, a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate, and a Republican already in that chamber, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, stressed party-building, reaching across geographic and other lines, to attract winning majorities they believe have lurked just outside the reach of recent candidates for the two offices they may seek.

Paul, a likely White House contender, keynoted the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner at the Hotel Kirkwood.

Roberts worked the room, appearing very much the candidate - and one who has forged connections with Republicans outside of western Iowa. In fact, Johnson County Republicans invited Roberts to sit at their table.

"That speaks well of folks over in eastern Iowa and my relationship with a lot of people over here," Roberts said. "Having been involved in that gubernatorial campaign a couple of years ago really enabled me to make those networks all over the state that are still very viable for me."

Roberts, who sought the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2010 and made it to the final field of three, with conservative activists Bob Vander Plaats and Gov. Terry Branstad, said he is involved in many behind-the-scenes discussions about a possible run for the Senate seat being vacated by veteran Democrat Tom Harkin.

"Every day, there's someone else, and either they've just heard, or they express, 'If you're not thinking about it, you should be,'" Roberts said in an interview with The Daily Times Herald. "I've said, 'Well, I am thinking about it.' No one who has engaged me in a conversation has cautioned me in any way that, 'Well, I don't know if I'd look at this or not.' It's all been very positive."

As it stands, the Republican Party could have a field of multiple candidates, Roberts said. Secretary of State Matt Schultz and State Sen. Joni Ernst of Red Oak, both have signaled interest in the U.S. Senate race and were in attendance at the Lincoln Dinner.

"You want to be in attendance here, not only to listen to Senator Rand Paul speak, but also just to connect with other grassroots activists," Roberts said. "You have a lot of county organization leaders here."

Roberts, director of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, has not publicly set a timetable for a decision on the Senate.

"Boy, you want to do your homework on this," Roberts said. "You don't want to just make a decision on a whim or an impulse. You want to be thoughtful, disciplined and intentional with what you say, and how you begin to message, even if you're just seriously looking at the opportunity."

Mark Doland of Oskaloosa, a member of the GOP State Central Committee and a Mahaska County supervisor, assessed Roberts as a top-tier Senate candidate, one of two or three he thinks could construct a winning campaign

"I think he's one of them that has the resources, the personality and the experience, that it would take to become a U.S. senator," said Doland, who added that Roberts has as a "genuine" and "humble" manner of communicating.

About 500 people attended the Lincoln event on the southern part of Kirkwood Community College in a hotel and events center operated by the school.

Standing beside the podium, with no notes or teleprompter, Paul, 50, a son of 77-year-old U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, drew sustained applause multiple times during a 20-minute speech high on humor and packed with zingers aimed at Hillary Clinton, the prohibitive Democrat front-runner in the 2016 presidential race, should she seek her party's nomination.

Paul warmed up the partisans with an opening act on pork-barrel spending, programs he thinks showcase runaway and outrageous, if not ridiculous, federal spending.

For example, Paul pointed out that NASA is spending $1 million annually developing a menu for a Mars trip. The space agency expects to send astronauts there in about 20 years.

The menu research is a "perfect job" for a 26-year-old living in his parents' basement, Paul deadpanned.

"Guess what a bunch of college kids came up with? Pizza," Paul said. "That was some money well-spent."

According to the Houston Chronicle, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in his "Waste Book 2012," complains that NASA also has awarded $947,000 to Cornell University and the University of Hawaii to study Martian cuisine. "Six volunteers will head into a barren landscape in Hawaii to simulate a 120-day Mars mission. In exchange, they receive an all-expenses-paid trip, plus $5,000 each, for completing the journey."

Paul drew a standing ovation when he challenged the Obama administration's handling of last year's attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. At the time, Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state.

"First question for Hillary Clinton: Where in the hell were the Marines?" Paul said.

Paul said Clinton failed in analyzing intelligence and protecting American lives and assets.

"The point is that Benghazi is a lot more like Baghdad than it is Paris," Paul said.

Paul charged that the deaths at the embassy were the result of "dereliction of duty" on Clinton's part.

"It should preclude her from holding higher office," Paul said.

On immigration reform, Paul takes a nuanced position. He wants to see the work visa program improved for agricultural workers, for example.

"About half a million people are coming in to pick crops, but only about 65,000 of them are using the work visa program," Paul said. "That's how you're getting more illegal immigration."

Paul said he can see a route to supporting comprehensive immigration reform if the legislation addresses issues he believes are key.

"I don't want to just say I'm voting 'no' and I'm not going to be for it," Paul said. "I do want to try to fix it because I think there is a problem."

The senator said his party must recognize that immigration reform is a gateway issue for Latinos.

"I also think that as a party we need to grow bigger and that we need to attract Latino vote," Paul said. "That is a very practical thing, and I'm not ashamed to admit it."

Exit polls showed President Obama with more than 70 percent of the Latino vote in his 2012 race with GOP White House candidate Mitt Romney.

"We have to change the way we are talking about it and who we are if we want to attract Latino vote," Paul said.

It's not the legislative solution, but one of language, human decency, Paul said.

"We need to treat immigrants with dignity and respect," Paul said. "If you want to work in our country, I want to find a place for you to work."

Paul said the reality is that a "certain sense of de facto amnesty" prevails in the nation with undocumented residents.

"Their kids will be voting," Paul said. "If their kids think we're hostile to them, they're never going to vote for us. We're an increasingly diverse nation. I think we do need to reach out to other people that don't look like us, don't wear the same clothes, that aren't exactly who we are."