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Policy: Technology

Rand Paul hopes NSA spying will top gay marriage for young voters

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,Kentucky,2014 Elections,2016 Elections,Rand Paul,Campaigns,NSA,Technology,CPAC

Sen. Rand Paul hopes that his opposition to National Security Agency spying will allow him to unite conservative voters skeptical of President Obama and young voters who have trended Democratic in the last two presidential elections -- and he's got a speech that was well-received both at the Conservative Political Action Conference and the left-wing bastion of Berkeley, Calif., to back up the theory.

“I'm not here to tell you what to be,” the Kentucky Republican told several hundred students Wednesday at the University of California, Berkeley. “But I am here to tell you, though, that your rights, especially your right to privacy", is under assault.” The New York Times noted that he "tried to speak in an informal way" at the university, but it's the same message he rode to a CPAC straw poll victory earlier this month.

“I believe what you do on a cellphone is none of their damn business,” Paul said at Berkeley, just as he did at CPAC. In both cases, the lines drew heavy applause.

Robert Reich, who led the labor department under Bill Clinton, told the Times that Paul had taken on the easy issue for young people.

“I'd like to see someone ask him about his position on gay rights and abortion,” Reich said.

A Republican source close to Paul explained that the Tea Party senator suspects that the NSA's surveillance programs are more offensive to young people than GOP opposition to gay marriage.

"Republicans in general stand in a pretty important spot where we need to make a leap forward and capture a substantial part of the millennial vote or we risk losing them to the Democratic Party for a long time," the source told the Washington Examiner earlier Wednesday. "And the biggest issue with those kids right now, those young people, is government surveillance, privacy, things like that," the source said, saying that it is especially important to young voters who might get active in a political campaign.

"Young people are so ingrained — their lives have really blended offline/online. ... They're so blended together that when they hear — even when the truth is bent about the extent to which they're being spied on or tracked, it's a nonstarter to them," the Republican source said.

Paul didn't field any questions on gay marriage, so the theory that young liberals will choose Fourth Amendment civil liberties over gay marriage went untested. And it's not clear how emphatically Rand Paul will test it, although he does support traditional marriage laws.

"I think that the Republican Party, in order to get bigger, will have to agree to disagree on social issues," Paul told vocativ.com last week. "The Republican Party is not going to give up on having quite a few people who do believe in traditional marriage. But the Republican Party also has to find a place for young people and others who don't want to be festooned by those issues."

That's not a comment that inspires social conservatives. The best-case scenario for Paul is that he brings new young voters into the fold who turn the primary and general election in his favor, while also picking up disaffected traditional Republicans, the kind that supported Patriot Act programs under former President George W. Bush but don't like what they seen from Obama.

The worst-case scenario for Paul: Young voters don't turn out for him, and some foreign-policy conservatives and social conservatives conclude they can't trust him. In other words, he goes through a repeat of Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign, when Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum beat the elder Paul in the Iowa caucuses.

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