DETROIT — Prospective 2016 presidential candidate and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday that his Republican Party must change and do a better job of appealing to residents of hard-hit cities like Detroit.
Paul stopped at the city's Republican field office, the first of three area appearances to support GOP candidates. He led a discussion with the state party chairman and supporters before heading to two suburban events: a rally with a House candidate and a speech at a dinner.
"Both parties need to change. My party does need to change — we need to adapt ... or die," the libertarian-leaning Paul said. "The problem Republicans have is it appears we don't care, but then again, what are Democrats doing for Detroit?"
Paul said he doesn't know the details of the city's bankruptcy restructuring, which is nearing conclusion more than a year after it became the largest public filing in U.S. history. But he said Detroit still suffers economically and could benefit from legislation he's sponsoring calling for "economic freedom zones," which would drastically lower taxes in struggling cities and leave more than $1 billion in Detroit over 10 years.
"Even if you emerge from (bankruptcy), you need a stronger economy, we need more jobs created," he told The Associated Press after the discussion. "The way you get them is ... by saying, 'Money goes where it's welcome. Make money welcome here and it'll come.'"
Paul, who's not on the ballot this fall, has visited more than 30 states this election season. He's among the most active potential Republican White House candidates.
Paul said his economic ideas could be bipartisan, and he has Democratic support, including from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, for legislation that would ease nonviolent criminal drug sentences that disproportionately affect young African-Americans and Hispanics. He's "convinced" the country "went too far in the 'war on drugs.'"
His approach to expanding the GOP base hasn't always been favorably received by fellow Republicans nationally, but he said he's finding support from state party Chairman Bobby Schostak and others in Michigan.
"Some politicians think, if I work with the Democrats, when I get home they'll criticize me for not being conservative enough," he said. "Because I'm pretty happy and comfortable in my skin it's very easy to reach out and work with ... people who are not only on the other side but probably on the far other side of the coin."
Paul was to attend an afternoon rally in suburban Livonia with 11th District Republican candidate Dave Trott. The lawyer beat U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio in the August primary and faces Democratic counterterrorism expert Bobby McKenzie in next week's general election.
Later, Paul was to speak at the Oakland County Lincoln Day Dinner in Rochester, where he's expected to be joined by Gov. Rick Snyder and U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land.