U.S. Senator Rand Paul promised to be a different kind of Republican on Tuesday, launching a 2016 White House bid by saying he would stand up for individual freedoms that are being trampled by "the Washington machine."
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The first-term senator from Kentucky, a libertarian with a reputation for challenging party orthodoxy, criticized Republicans in Congress and the White House for helping to drive up the federal debt and reducing personal liberties.
"The Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped," he told cheering supporters on a flag-draped stage in Louisville, Kentucky.
"Both parties and the entire political system are to blame," he said under a banner reading "Defeat the Washington Machine, Unleash the American Dream."
Paul's announcement makes him the second major Republican to jump into the 2016 race after Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. A crowded field is expected, with candidates competing hard for constituencies ranging from the Christian right to traditional Wall Street Republicans.
In a speech that will kick off a four-day campaign trip to the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, Paul delivered a message of personal freedom and economic opportunity.
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The 52-year-old former eye surgeon is now in the second tier of Republican candidates, drawing the support of 8.4 percent of Republicans, according to a March Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll.
He is behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has said he is exploring a bid, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. He is in a statistical tie with four other Republicans: Cruz, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Paul, who entered Congress on the Tea Party wave of 2010, has been reaching out in recent months to attract more mainstream voters and to reach minorities and young voters who have not favored Republicans in the past.
"The message of liberty, opportunity and justice is for all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform or overalls, whether you're white or black, rich or poor," he said.
He proposed economic freedom zones that could aid impoverished areas like Detroit and eastern Kentucky as he highlighted growing inequality in America while praising his sons for working in minimum wage jobs while in college.
"Under the watch of both parties, the poor seem to get poorer and the rich get richer. Trillion-dollar government stimulus packages has only widened the income gap," Paul said.
But Paul, who once mounted a 13-hour filibuster to call attention to the United States' use of drones, recently proposed a boost to military spending. He told the Louisville crowd he envisioned a national defense "unparalleled, undefeatable and unencumbered by overseas nation-building."
"BRIDGES AT HOME"
"Let's quit building bridges in foreign countries and use that money to build some bridges here at home," Paul said.
The one-time firebrand who wants to scale back the authority of the Federal Reserve also has been quietly courting Wall Street donors and raising money for fellow Republicans, at times upsetting the grassroots activists who have made him a national figure.
In Louisville, the crowd cheered loudly when he introduced his father, Ron Paul, the libertarian former congressman who built an army of loyal activists during failed presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012.
Paul promised to put a quick end to National Security Agency surveillance of phone records and other activities and said he would campaign with "the Constitution in one hand and the Bill of Rights in the other."
He has sponsored legislation with two Democrats to loosen federal marijuana laws at a time when almost half the U.S. states have legalized the drug for medicinal purposes and several have made it legal for recreational use. Other Republican candidates now say states should have the right to set their own policies.
Corey Elder, 20, an engineering student at the University of Kentucky who attended the announcement, said he admired Paul's willingness to oppose an extension of the Patriot Act while other Republicans had backed its reauthorization.
Elder said Paul had shown he was willing to stand on principle. "He's like more extreme - he really means it, not just because it's popular," he said.
(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Leslie Adler)