Sen. Rand Paul praised Maryland Republicans Tuesday 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 anti-poverty 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."
Paul defended his fight against the reauthorization of government surveillance provisions in the Patriot Act, which included an hours-long filibuster. He said he supports a strong national defense, but expressed concern about Pentagon spending and power.
Paul urged Republican activists to embrace all of the 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 also repeated positions that are more controversial within the Republican 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.
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 contributed to Gov. Larry Hogan's statewide win.
Paul brought a more diverse audience than usual, Republican County Chairman Al Mendelsohn said.
"There are a lot of non-traditional Republicans here tonight," he said. "Rand Paul brings a younger set. He brings people who describe themselves as libertarians."
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 at Federal Hill last month. Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke in state in early May.
On the Republican side, Dr. Ben Carson spoke at a Maryland Right to Life banquet in Baltimore County last month.
Baltimore Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.