South by Southwest Interactive is the last place you’d expect to see Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Paul identifies as a Tea Partier, constitutional conservative and libertarian conservative. He is also “100% pro-life,” opposes net neutrality, and is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment.
What on earth, then, is Paul doing speaking at a technology conference where the audience is primarily young, likely to vote Democratic, and otherwise likely to oppose Paul on just about every social issue?
Well, apparently, Rand Paul is all about contradictions.
Although he has yet to officially announce his plan to run for the presidency in 2016, he seems to be setting himself up to win votes from a young, tech-savvy crowd. In his conversation with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith at SXSW on Sunday, March 15, Paul said he was the only candidate who wanted to put a stop to the bulk collection of phone records led by the National Security Administration. He was also quick to take stabs at President Obama on the issue, who he claimed “could stop bulk collection of records right now if he wanted to.”
Maintaining that his candidacy was still hypothetical, he added that “many young people have fled this president [because of his support of the NSA program], and I think many people would be open to coming to a candidate who protects privacy.”
Paul emphasized how tech-savvy his hypothetical campaign would be, and recognizes that he must be in the social media sphere in order to win young votes. He’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and perhaps most surprisingly, Snapchat (username: SenatorRandPaul). He was the first Senator to give an official interview via the platform in January.
He also has 1.8 million fans on his Facebook page, which is one of the largest followings of any U.S. senator on the site. “You have to find people where they are,” Paul said. “I have three boys, and they keep with up with news through [social media].”
Aside from running a potentially social media savvy campaign, Paul also said he would focus on tackling the decriminalization of non-violent drug-related offenses. He said that having a felony record — and to a larger extent, “the war on drugs” — is the “biggest thing that disenfranchises people” and prevents them from voting (a topic that came up after questioning by Smith of Paul’s complex feelings on the Voting Rights Act).
The conversation touched on the hot button political scandal of the moment as well. On the topic of Hillary Clinton using a personal email address to conduct State Department affairs, Paul said he is “not concerned that she used a private email address,” but is concerned that in doing do, she may have jeopardized national security. “[She said] she didn’t want two phones for convenience’s sake. Well, convenience should not trump national security,” he said.
On the issue of net neutrality, Paul stood firmly with the Republican party. He is against the net neutrality rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission, which says all internet traffic should be treated equally. That’s not to say he supported any kind of internet monopoly. Rather, he believes that not regulating the marketplace of internet providers would actually allow more space for smaller companies to enter the field and compete with large service providers. “We [government] shouldn’t interfere with the marketplace,” he said. “ The internet is unregulated, and we have to keep it that way.”
Paul also mentioned the opening of his Austin, Tex. office on Monday, March 16. The office is in the Capital Factory, which is an incubator, accelerator and networking hub for tech startups in downtown Austin. The move has been seen by some as a way to further appeal to tech-savvy youth voters.
Check back soon for more coverage from SXSW Interactive in Austin!