Sen. Rand Paul praised Maryland Republicans on Wednesday for showing they can be successful in a Democratic state.
The Kentucky Republican, seeking the GOP nomination for president in 2016, drew a crowd of more than 400 to the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee's Lincoln-Reagan Dinner at Martin's West in Windsor Mill.
Paul touched on several themes in his 29-minute address, speaking of a need to rebalance political power in Washington, promote the Bill of Rights and rethink antipoverty strategies.
He also criticized Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, saying her handling of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, should "forever preclude her from being president."
The Lincoln-Reagan Dinner was a fundraiser for the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee. The Baltimore County GOP spent $68,500 last year promoting Republican candidates in the November elections. The party picked up several seats in the Maryland General Assembly and helped fuel Gov. Larry Hogan's statewide win.
Paul drew a diverse audience, Republican County Chairman Al Mendelsohn said.
"There are a lot of nontraditional Republicans here tonight," he said. "Rand Paul brings a younger set. He brings people who describe themselves as libertarians."
For attendees from Carroll County, a jurisdiction that went 82 percent for Hogan in the 2014 election, Paul's visit signals that Maryland can be a state in play for future elections.
"Rand made a point to say he goes everywhere," said Larry Helminiak, vice chair of the Carroll County Republican Center Committee. "Those that say 'This is a blue state, don't pay attention to it, don't waste your time here,' evidently didn't look at the November election results, where we elected a Republican governor and increased the number of Republican representatives."
Helminiak said the turnout reflected Paul's wide appeal. "You need everybody in the party and he needs all the people," he said.
In his talk, Paul urged Republican activists to embrace all elements of the Bill of Rights.
The Republican Party might be the party of the Second Amendment, he said, but the other amendments are also important. He spoke of freedom of religion, guaranteed by the First Amendment, and the right to a trial, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
"We need to proclaim the message of the Bill of Rights with the passion of Patrick Henry," he said.
Paul defended his fight against the reauthorization of government surveillance provisions in the Patriot Act that included an hours-long filibuster. He said he supports strong national defense, but expressed concern about Pentagon spending and power. He also repeated positions more controversial within the party. He railed against imprisoning people for minor drug offenses and blasted the government for locking up U.S. citizens at Guantanamo Bay without trial.
Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said it was a good sign that a presidential candidate was interested in paying a visit to the state.
Maryland has had visits from several Democratic presidential candidates. Clinton attended a fundraiser in Bethesda on Monday. Former Gov. Martin O'Malley launched his campaign in Baltimore's Federal Hill last month. Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke in the state in early May.
On the Republican side, Dr. Ben Carson spoke at a Maryland Right to Life banquet in Baltimore County last month.
Times Staff Writer Jon Kelvey and Baltimore Sun Staff Writer John Fritze contributed to this report.
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