Can Rand Paul Win Over Tech Voters in 2016?

Rand Paul, Source:  Mark Wilson/Getty News Images

Mark Wilson/Getty News Images

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) should consider getting a Steam account and begin handing out his username attached to a 2016 button, or maybe buy a Google Glass to wear around San Francisco in the coming months as he attempts to appeal to a specific, often Democratic, electorate. Specifically, Paul is looking to target millennials and the tech industry, something that will increasingly go hand-in-hand as the job market continues to change and develop around new technology, startups, and the computer industry.

In 2014, Paul spoke in San Francisco on everything from libertarian values to Bitcoin, Uber, and how the NSA’s monitoring techniques have gone astray. He worked to relate his libertarian ideas to the startup community there, saying, per The New York Times: “That’s what I love about coming out here. You create something out of nothing.”

This isn’t the only sign that the 2016 contender is looking to snatch up young votes in the Bay Area. In an interview with SF Gate, he acknowledged that he’s opening an office in the Bay Area. But just how big is this electorate, and why is it worth a concerted effort — if indeed it really is? If Paul’s only concern is appealing to computer programers and app designers, perhaps it would be to narrow the playing field. But in reality, he’s looking to attract two larger voter groups with these moves.

“My goal for the past year has been to try to widen the party message and make the party big enough to win nationally,” said Paul, per SF Gate. “We can win here again, but we have to convince independents to come back. The brand has been damaged. We really need a new GOP … and we need great leaders to define what that GOP is.”

The goal is not simply to pull in young tech voters, but to recapture as much of California and independent voters as possible. A starting point for that is to target younger voters — a weakness in the Republican Party, given its social conservatism — and to siphon out potential Republicans from those voters who are not committed Democrats in blue states like California. That starts with the state’s liberal centers, like San Francisco.

According to a report from the Bay Area Center for Voting Research on the most conservative and liberal cities in the U.S., California has 55 cities with populations above the 100,000 line that fall within its ranking of the most liberal cities.

However, the report also notes that “despite being characterized nationally as a universally liberal state, our findings show that many cities in California are extremely conservative, especially in the southern and inland portions of the state.” It also notes that six cities in California actually fall on the the list of the top 25 most conservative cities in the United States.

It will be useful for Republicans if they can reach young voters in general, because that’s a demographic that has been particularly problematic for them. This is where Paul is clearly looking to appeal if he can keep his message of small government and stay out of social issues.

That may be one of the problems in particular for the GOP in attracting a broader swath of voters. Conservatives often have views on social issues that are non-negotiable, and that even politicians who are currently more diplomatic have a less-than-clear track record on in the past.

On that note, Paul may be a tad too conservative to pull in anyone but the true independents, judging by his signature on a recent letter to Iran, his stance on the “war on women,” and his views on same-sex marriage.

Still, the method of wading out of the party’s normal waters is an interesting one, and it has potential if Rand does as he said he plans to and utilizes local resources to strategize a game plan, as well as seek to appeal to vulnerable demographics. However, a solid percentage of the Bay Area population is unlikely to be won over, regardless of tact.

“There’s a lot of smart people in Silicon Valley, and we want to use their brains to figure out how to win,” he said.

Follow Anthea on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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