by James Poulos | May 11, 2015 12:08 pm
After much talk and anticipation, Rand Paul’s presidential campaign has settled on the office space from where he hopes to strike gold with Silicon Valley. Paul “faced a high-energy, high-tech crowd in San Francisco Saturday,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “But he acknowledged he had a long road ahead of him in heavily Democratic California.”
The high-profile foray into the heart of  the politically deep blue Bay Area signaled both challenges and opportunities for Paul and the national GOP.
On a daylong trip through the city, Bloomberg Politics reported, Paul lunched with startup chieftains and dined with donors:
“Both events included ‘some known people’ from the tech industry, Paul’s spokesman Sergio Gor said, declining to name them.
“Paul spoke at StartupHouse, an office that rents individual desk space primarily to tech entrepreneurs and where Paul’s campaign plans to rent space. The office, on a busy commercial street within walking distance of social-network giant Twitter Inc., is in a building that once served as the headquarters of Good Vibrations, a chain of sex-toy shops.”
The setting dramatized the challenges facing Republican candidates hoping to make inroads in what’s often culturally alien territory. On the one hand, the pleasure- and party-centric residents of high-end San Francisco have instinctively distrusted politicians with a conservative cast. On the other, Paul — whose college hijinks were briefly the object of outrage among traditionalist Republicans — has had to ensure that his campaign does not skew so libertarian that conservative donors and grassroots voters balk.
During his remarks at StartupHouse, Paul returned to the theme of striking a balance in this regard by keeping different baskets of issues relatively separate. “While Paul’s views on shrinking government align with the tech community,” Bloomberg Politics noted, “he said his conservative views on social issues, including same-sex marriage, won’t come into play.
While some Republicans have expressed displeasure with Paul’s reform agenda, which ranges from rolling back the NSA to restoring the vote for felons, elected Democrats have so far refused to come to Paul’s defense — especially in California.
As USA Today reported, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., captured the sense of opposition on a call hosted by the Democratic National Committee. “Rand Paul likes to say he’s a ‘different’ kind of Republican,” Swalwell said, “but his policies don’t sound very different than the rest of the Republicans running for president.”
Calling him “wildly out of touch,” Swalwell implied that Paul could not lure young voters on election day by demonstrating his enthusiasm for social media apps like Snapchat.
During his remarks, Paul did in fact lay down that specific marker. “We use Snapchat more than anybody else out there,” he said. But that fact seemed to resonate strongly with his audience. “The crowd loves it,” BuzzFeed observed. “It’s a Snapchat kind of crowd.”
Well aware of the uphill climb that his or any Republican campaign must make in California, Paul’s team has begun to emphasize how the candidate’s approach to Golden State differs in refreshing ways from business as usual:
“As Vincent Harris, a Paul staffer who sat near the back tweeting from the senator’s Twitter account, told BuzzFeed News, Paul’s campaign is the only one with a tech advisory board, a CTO, a digital strategist, and offices in both San Francisco and Austin, Texas. Another attendee, Matt Shupe, a thirtysomething political consultant, points out that it’s rare for a politician on either side of the aisle to treat California as anything other than an ATM, hosting free, open events such as this one.”
State politics has become so dominated by Democrats in recent years that national campaigns have little reason to make direct appeals to voters. While Democrats have taken California’s electoral votes for granted, Republicans have tended to write off the state; every dollar spent there is a dollar the GOP cannot invest in battleground states like Virginia, potential swing states like Wisconsin, or perennial reach states that are also delegate-rich, like Pennsylvania.
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