Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is pushing forward with Republican outreach efforts to black and Hispanic voters, asserting in a Yahoo News interview that he doesn't "think there's anyone in Congress who has a stronger belief in minority rights than I do."
His comments were delivered in the wake of controversy surrounding the senator's aide Jack Hunter, who resigned within the past week. Hunter, the co-author of Paul's book The Tea Party Goes to Washington, came under fire for his past radio commentary supporting neo-Confederate ideology and denouncing the possibility of "a non-white majority in America."
Paul has addressed that controversy head-on, defending Hunter as a talented and thought-provoking writer whose previous work was designed for political shock value.
"If I thought he was a white supremacist, he would be fired immediately," Paul told The Huffington Post earlier this month. "We won't tolerate that, and I've seen no evidence of that."
During an appearance at the historically black college Howard University earlier this year, Paul described his efforts to revamp the GOP's image to make it more attractive to minority voters.
"Frankly, it is an uphill battle, for me to try to convince you that we haven't changed," he told Howard students, referring to the Republican Party's older history as a supporter of civil rights. "But that's part of me being here."
Paul, while acknowledging the scope of such an undertaking, remains optimistic about his chances of establishing common ground between Republicans and minority communities.
"[The GOP's image is] not something you change overnight, so I'm not unrealistic about it," the senator told Yahoo News. "If you were to poll African Americans just in issues without party, you would find that they are actually sympathetic to Republican issues on many [social] fronts."
While critics often point to the ambivalence he expressed in a 2010 Louisville Courier-Journal interview about whether he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Paul's stance against incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses has gained him favor with civil rights groups.
"So many African Americans, particularly young males, make mistakes as kids, and I don't think they should be punished for the rest of their lives," he said, referring to mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.
Earlier this year, Paul and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a bill that would give judges more flexibility to override those minimums and hand down more appropriate sentences.