Republican candidates who favor restraint in foreign policy abroad and a renewed commitment to civil liberties at home can build new coalitions in blue states and win upset victories, Sen. Rand Paul told The Daily Caller at a campaign stop in New Jersey Friday.
Polls show that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Lonegan trails Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker by double digits. But that situation could change dramatically over the next few weeks, Paul suggested, if Lonegan can connect with voters who are opposed to U.S. military intervention in Syria. Paul and Lonegan addressed hundreds of supporters during a campaign rally held outside of a banquet hall in Clark, N.J.
“By calling for the U.S. to stay out of the Syrian civil war, Steve Lonegan can appeal to Democrats, Independents and Republicans,” Paul told TheDC. “N.J. is a tough state for the GOP, it’s a blue state. But there’s an opportunity for Steve to expand the party’s appeal and to win by reaching out to voters who favor a return to these constitutional restraints. I call them Bill of Rights issues.”
By emphasizing privacy concerns and the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” GOP candidates like Lonegan can broaden the party’s base to include new constituencies, he said.
Paul has sent several letters to the FBI, asking the agency to clarify and define its policy on warrantless surveillance and the use of drones within the United States. He remains unsatisfied with FBI’s responses.
Paul has also publicly clashed with Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has spoken out in defense of counter-terrorism programs that involve government surveillance. Paul and Christie are widely viewed as potential rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
“The debate within our party over the use of drones and the direction of our foreign policy is a healthy debate to have,” Paul told TheDC. “We can win by making it clear that we favor a return to constitutional restrictions and by building a new Republican Party.”
In June, Christie set a special election date of Wednesday Oct. 16th to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of long-time Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg.
Just a few weeks later, Christie expected to cruise to an easy re-election win on Nov 5th. The governor, who has been preoccupied with a blaze that consumed the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, N.J., did not attend the rally in Clark. The event also conflicted with a birthday celebration for Christie’s wife. However, the governor is hosting a separate fundraiser for Lonegan later this month.
During the rally, Paul and Lonegan criticized Booker for presiding over rising crime rates, high levels of poverty and failing public schools during his time as mayor. Paul also called out Booker for allegedly creating an imaginary friend known as “T-Bone,” a Newark drug lord who supposedly died in Booker’s arms.
“There’s 15,000 people out of work in Newark,” Paul said. “One in three people in Newark are living in poverty, and Cory Booker’s got an imaginary friend named T-Bone.”
For his part, Lonegan described Booker as “a celebrity creation of far-left Hollywood liberals” who “lacks substance.” Lonegan also said he can better identify with the needs of average citizens and small business owners. Several Hollywood actors are hosting a fundraiser for Booker in California on Sept. 23.
Lonegan previously served as mayor of Bogota from 1995 to 2007 where he cut municipal spending, merged departments and privatized some services. He also served as the state director of the N.J. chapter for Americans for Prosperity before stepping down to run for Senate.
“Some people might call what we are doing as rebuilding the Republican Party,” he told TheDC. “But I would say that what we are doing is re-establishing the Republican Party as the party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.”
The libertarian message has potential in N.J. and in other parts of country that have not voted Republican in recent elections, Kevin Sullivan, a Mendham, N.J. resident, said. He credits Paul for pushing for reforms to the criminal justice system that would result in lower incarceration rates for non-violent offenders.
“The over incarceration of individuals who are not violent is an issue that does not know any race,” said Sullivan, who is also a student at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. “We have too many young men going into prison because of a youthful mistake and then they can’t find work later and this creates a cycle.”
Since the Senate election falls on a Wednesday, and not a Tuesday, this could affect turnout, giving Lonegan an opportunity, according to some of the supporters in attendance.
“Those of us who know Steve Lonegan understand that he has been an advocate for the state for a long time,” said Nancy Burwell, a Morristown resident. “He is for more liberty and less government intrusion. He wants to get the government out of education, and wants to protect the Fourth Amendment and the Second Amendment. He is a principled person who won’t be swayed by those who push for big government.”
If Lonegan does pull out an upset victory, he will remain a forceful proponent of constitutional limited government in Washington D.C., Paul told TheDC.
“Steve would not sell his vote for money,” Paul said. “He is not open to this kind of influence.”