Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky has said he will open an office in the San Francisco Bay Area. On the surface, it might seem a tad odd, at least from a more traditional political perspective. California, after all, goes Democrat in presidential elections. What kind of chance does a Republican really have there in two years? The answer, according to numerous analyses of Senator Paul's political tactics, lies in his plan to expand the GOP base, sway independent voters, and, of course, endear himself to the "libertarian streak" in Silicon Valley.
Paul, in his latest indication of a potential 2016 presidential bid, told The San Francisco Chronicle Saturday that he was "in the process" of opening the northern California office, adding that he'll be coming to the region "fairly often."
"There's a lot of smart people in Silicon Valley, and we want to use their brains to figure out how to win," he said in an interview with the paper, playing coy about what precisely he's trying to win.
Those remarks came shortly after a speech to California state Republicans in which he emphasized the importance of Republicans winning in California. "If we want to win the presidency, we have to figure out how to compete in California," he said, according to the Chronicle. He also criticized President Obama for acting unilaterally on decisions ranging from immigration policy to authorizing airstrikes against the Islamic State.
Paul's northern California move is in keeping with the trajectory he has taken in recent months to convince Silicon Valley tech wizards that the federal government is stifling innovation coming out of the valley. In a July speech at the Lincoln Labs Reboot conference in San Francisco, where techies and Republican Party members came together to share ideas, he emphasized that Mr. Obama wants to obstruct, not encourage, the kind of work emerging from Silicon Valley.
"[Obama] is not for innovation. He's not for freedom. He's for the protectionism crowd. You know he's for the crowd that would limit the activities of these companies," he told people at the conference, according to the Los Angeles Times.
He further painted the situation in Washington as dire – desperate for a fix that only top tech talent could provide.
"I have nothing but optimism when I'm out here because I see amazing potential for growth away from the disaster that is Washington. I don't have to think there has to be a governmental solution for everything," he said. "Don't be depressed with how bad government is. Use your ingenuity, use your big head to think of solutions the marketplace can figure out, that the idiots and trolls in Washington will never come up with."
In July, Paul also attended the Allen & Co. media and technology conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he took private meetings with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Politico reported. It's not the first time libertarian ideology and Silicon Valley have gone hand in hand. Paul's father, former US Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, received $2.6 million from Mr. Thiel in 2012 to a super political action committee supporting his failed presidential campaign.
But more than money – though that's surely a key motivator in his inroads to the tech world – it's all part and parcel of a broader strategy to make the Republican Party more diverse. At a speech to the Detroit Economic Club in December, for example, he said that the struggling city, a Democratic stronghold, would not see a bright future "come from Washington." Rather, he highlighted the idea of "economic free zones" that would see federal taxes cut in communities with a 12 percent unemployment rate or higher, attracting more business activity, the Detroit Free Press reported.
In that speech, he also laid out his vision of the Republican Party's image problem: To win votes, particularly in urban areas, it needs to look younger and more diverse, he said.
"We need to be a more diverse party if we're ever going to win again. We need people with tattoos, ponytails and earrings," he said, according to the Free Press. "The Democratic Party is more diverse than we are. We lose all the big cities. We have to change or we won't win nationally again."