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Rand Paul talks 2016 presidential race during Utah trip

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We need to welcome new members. We need more African-American members, more Hispanic members, more Jewish-American members, more Asian-American members. – Rand Paul

SALT LAKE CITY — Fresh from besting a crowd of potential candidates for president in a national poll, Rand Paul says he wants to grow the Republican Party big enough to win presidential elections again whether he runs or not.

"We need to welcome new members. We need more African-American members, more Hispanic members, more Jewish-American members, more Asian-American members," the Kentucky senator said in an interview Monday.

Paul spent the weekend snowboarding with his family in Park City and attended a fundraising breakfast for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, at the Alta Club.

On Sunday, Paul did something that his father, Ron Paul, never did: top a list of possible GOP presidential candidates in a national poll.

A new CNN/ORC International survey showed 16 percent of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP say they would likely support Paul for the 2016 nomination.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Mitt Romney's 2014 running mate, garnered 15 percent, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry had 11 percent. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was the one other potential candidate to reach double digits in the poll that included Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

"I don’t know if it's good luck or bad luck. It's still pretty early and I think it's better than not showing up in the poll," Paul said. He's not sure the showing makes any difference now but said it gives him the chance to talk about changing the party.

Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, agrees the GOP needs to reshape its message, noting Romney lost in 2012 primarily on social issues that attract women, minority and young voters.

"The Republican Party has to make policies which will bring more of these people into its fold," he said.

Paul, 51, touched on a variety of issues during the interview, including same-sex marriage, foreign policy and immigration.

The first-term senator said he has always thought of marriage as a state issue, noting Kentucky has a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

"I support that, but we're struggling with federal decisions that are going the other way," he said. "Even above and beyond religious reasons for marriage, there's an economic reason for it. I don't think we should give up on that."

On foreign policy, Rand said President Barack Obama has made the mistake of drawing lines and then crossing them.

"I think he's appeared too feckless on the world stage, and I think that's a mistake," he said.

Paul also addressed the crisis in Ukraine, noting that Russia transports 80 percent of its oil and gas across Ukraine. He said if Ukraine descends into civil war and "becomes Syria," it will be a disaster for Russia.

"They need to be told in no uncertain terms that it will be a disaster for them if they do escalate this," Paul said.

Obama on Monday announced sanctions against seven Russian officials and warned that if Russia continues to interfere with Ukraine's sovereignty, he would push for even tougher sanctions.

On immigration, Paul said he favors an expansive work program that would allow people to have a work visa.

"If you want to work, I think we can find a place for you in our country. It doesn't mean we're going to load you up with welfare, it probably doesn’t mean you get to vote," he said.

Paul also said the Republican Party needs to change how it's perceived by working-class Americans. Big government, he said, is not a friend to the working poor or senior citizens on a fixed incomes.

"We just haven't presented that message enough to say we are on the side of the working class," he said. "In fact, it's the other side that gives you the false promise of something for nothing that is really enslaving you to the loss of your purchasing power."

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