U.S. Sen. Rand Paul wooed a crowd of college students Monday with a small-government message that seemed tailored to capturing the elusive youth vote.
"The government, it's none of their damn business what you do with your credit card," Paul told a group of about 200 people gathered for the "Stand with Rand" event inside Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota.
Paul called for less government intrusion into personal financial records. He said as president he'd also push to lower sentences for some drug crimes, and he criticized universities for building huge endowments while tuition skyrockets. He struck an anti-war note by vowing no U.S. military strikes abroad unless the United States itself is directly threatened.
Paul is the first Republican presidential candidate to campaign in Minnesota in several months, and he is putting an emphasis on building the kind of grassroots-based effort that is often rewarded in Minnesota's caucus system. This year the state's contest is on March 1, fast on the heels of the first four presidential contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Paul was the first Republican candidate to bring on a paid staffer in Minnesota. Another candidate, Carly Fiorina, has since retained an organizer here. On the Democratic side, frontrunner Hillary Clinton now has two paid organizers in Minnesota as they prepare for the contest with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Polls have shown Paul failing to break out of the large Republican pack. He countered that he believes his followers are more fervently behind him than most of his rivals. Paul said he did not believe either Donald Trump or Ben Carson would be president, and he said that U.S. foreign policy would be no different under Florida Sen. Marco Rubio than it would under Clinton.
Paul has another student rally at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, followed by an event in Rochester and an evening fundraiser at the home of a supporter in Orono.
In trying to organize student support, Paul's campaign is gambling that it will be able to convince them to get out and participate in the March 1 caucus, often low-profile events that are usually dominated by party regulars.
"I work 30 hours a week and I'm a full-time pharmacy student. I'm pretty busy," said David Poyerd, an undergraduate from Forest Lake who said he supports Paul, but doubts he'd actually get out and caucus for him.