Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) on Wednesday made an unexpected remark about the nature of crime in a city that has seen more than its share of it.
"There is crime going on all across America. It is not a racial thing, it is a spiritual problem," the 2016 presidential hopeful said during a campaign stop in the South Side of Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Speaking before a mostly African-American crowd outside New Beginnings Church in Woodlawn, Paul continued, "I think government can play a role in public safety, but I don't think government can mend a broken spirit. Government can't provide you salvation, government can't save you ... Ultimately, salvation is something you accept yourselves."
The libertarian-leaning senator's attempt to tie crime to spirituality, rather than to more tangible factors like poverty, racially biased policies and inadequate economic investment, sounded less like what Paul has said in the past and more like the traditional message touted by other GOP candidates seeking the party's nomination.
Typically, Paul's stances on crime and criminal justice issues have shared more with socially progressive viewpoints than socially conservative ones: He has called for demilitarized police and reform of racist drug laws, and argued that poverty impacts incarceration rates. Of the Republican candidates in the race, Paul has been the most open and unabashed in his effort to connect with black voters, despite the friction it sometimes causes in his own party.
In his speech on Wednesday, Paul highlighted his ability to be tough on crime, while also making the effort to reach out to the largely black audience.
"You may be saying to yourself, 'Why is this white guy saying black lives matter, what does he know about crime in my neighborhood?'" Paul said, referring to the rallying cry that has become popular in the aftermath of recent deaths of African-American men at the hands of white police officers. "Well, I've got crime in my neighborhood too ... We've got some kind of thing going on in our country, and we need to come to grips with it."
Paul's attempts to connect with the audience on the issue of racial justice were a sign that while Chicago's black voters have historically voted Democrat in a perennially blue state, it's exactly these voters Paul wants -- and needs. Still, the candidate took time to tout his economic message as well, saying he'd like to see "dramatically lowered" taxes for businesses on a South Side block he visited. He noted that he especially wants to lower taxes for businesses that are run by and employed locals.
"My idea is not to take money from Washington and send it to the South Side of Chicago, but take money from the South Side of Chicago and never send it to Washington," Paul said, according to CBS Chicago.
Paul had been invited to speak by New Beginnings Pastor Corey Brooks, who has previously faced criticism for supporting the candidacy of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican.
“On the South Side, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican, we’re just excited that you’re coming to hear our views,” Brooks said on Wednesday, according to DNAinfo Chicago.