The Kentucky senator and potential Republican candidate for president tries to reach younger voters in a question-and-answer session at the tech and entertainment festival.

Share story

Sen. Rand Paul, right, speaks with Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith at SXSW. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Deborah Cannon)

While many of his rivals spent the weekend scouting for support in the traditional electoral hunting grounds of New Hampshire, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul headed south by southwest, instead.

Interviewed Sunday at the South by Southwest technology conference by Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith, Paul did his best to woo younger, tech-savvy voters and what he called “the leave me alone coalition” of libertarian-leaning Americans.

“I think some people think tech is this miracle that’s going to transform politics and if you just know the secret tech code that you can get all these new voters. Tech is important, but so is substance,” Paul, who sported brown cowboy boots and jeans, told the Austin, Texas, audience. “I think if you have something to say that is unique, that you can find other people that may agree with that unique message.

“So, I’m trying to find — and I think you’re a potential voter in Texas that might be registered as a Democrat, might be an Independent, or a Republican, but I think you might be coming our way.”

Asked what specifically characterized someone who might be interested in Paul’s message, the senator emphasized libertarian values.

“It’s not just that you’re into tech that makes you open to our message, it’s if you’re part of the leave-me-alone coalition. The leave-me-alone coalition thinks that government doesn’t know everything, that government really shouldn’t be telling us what to do, for the most part, and that we want to be left alone, whether it’s our economic lives our our personal lives,” Paul said to scattered applause.

After weeks in which Paul seemed to intent on siding with members of the conservative wing of the Republican party on issues like nuclear negotiations with Iran and support of the government of Israel, the senator fully embraced his role as a GOP iconoclast, pointing out what distinguished him from his possible presidential rivals.

“I’m the only candidate who thinks that the NSA program on bulk collection of your phone records should be shut down,” Paul said. “So, for example, if any of the people who like that look online for an article that says the NSA shouldn’t be doing that, it may well be that they see an ad from us, and that’s the way the Internet works, is liking and tagging your ideas to other ideas out there that people are interested in.”

As if to prove his point, seconds after Paul spoke that line, a version of it appeared on the senator’s Twitter feed.

Paul lambasted President Obama for not stopping the NSA collection of the phone records of American citizens, and called his administration worse on civil liberties than that of George W. Bush. And on the topic of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail account and server during her tenure as secretary of state, Paul said Clinton “broke the law.”

While much of the interview dealt with political issues, the bulk of the conversation centered on technological matters. There, too, Paul has set himself apart from many of his rivals.

“I do Snapchat.” Paul said. “We’re tying to get new people engaged, and when you look at Snapchat’s audience, you know it’s the biggest 18- to 24 year-old audience. These are new young voters.”

While other Republican hopefuls like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry shook hands at events in New Hampshire, Paul’s SXSW interview was live-streamed on the Internet, and was followed by a Twitter Q&A.

“I think you have to find people where they are,” said Paul.