Rand Paul Banks on College Students to Win Iowa

PHOTO: Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, and GOP presidential hopeful continues his Stand by Rand tour at the University of Iowa campus, April 10, 2015 in Iowa City. David Greedy/Getty Images
Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, and GOP presidential hopeful continues his 'Stand by Rand' tour at the University of Iowa campus, April 10, 2015 in Iowa City.

Presidential hopeful Rand Paul spent part of last week back in college, touring universities throughout Iowa as part of his campaign’s strategy to win the state by banking on attracting young voters.

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At a stop at the University of Northern Iowa, while the senator was live-streaming his day, Paul told ABC News that he felt a little bit like he was on a reality television show.

"I guess you can call it fun," Paul said. "I’m sure I've said four or five things probably that you know shouldn't say on TV."

Paul made those remarks shortly after he answered a question on his live stream about whether he is still running for president.

"I wouldn't be doing this dumb-ass live streaming if I weren't," he said. The campaign later turned the candid remark into a tee shirt.

The live stream and Paul's social media presence are part of his campaign's strategy to go where the young people are.

"I've got three teenage sons and they don't watch any broadcast news. They don't watch any cable news. They just simply get the news from their friends. They get the news from comedy channels," Paul said. "So we try to get out there to the venue where kids are and I think that will also help us."

Going where the kids are last week meant going to colleges across Iowa. Each of the tour stops began with loud music playing and a screen with a campaign logo that includes an image of Paul wearing Ray Ban shades. A campaign video of students standing with Rand was also played and Paul was often introduced by the local Young Republicans student leader or a Students for Rand leader.

Paul calls these young voters "a natural constituency."

"Young people I think gravitate to a candidate who's less likely to take them to war, less likely to put them in jail for a marijuana offense and also less likely to have the government collecting all their phone records," Paul said. "In fact, I think I'm the one who will stand up for them on all three fronts: privacy, less war and also criminal justice reform."

Some of the schools that hosted Paul have also hosted his GOP rivals like Donald Trump and Rick Santorum, while others haven't seen a candidate in years.

"I don't really know too much about the candidates," said Tiffany, a senior at Upper Iowa University who asked that her last name not be used. "I think it's nice that he actually took the time to think about a small school and to come out here."

It's also strategic. The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 1, while schools are in session. The Paul campaign is hoping to get 10,000 students to caucus for them. The campaign claims to have 1000 students already agreeing to caucus for them in Iowa. At each stop, after Paul gave his stump speech to students, a member of his campaign team would come on stage and explain the importance that these students could have in presidential politics.

"It matters what happens here and you have an outsized say in picking not just the next president but the next person who will be the most powerful leader in the world, so avail yourself of this opportunity," Steve Grubbs, chief strategist of Paul’s campaign in Iowa, told students at the University of Northern Iowa.

Campaign aides urged students to fill out a card with their contact info and asked those who got in line to take a photo with Paul to pledge to caucus for the senator.

Still, Paul has his work cut out for him.

Zach Nullmeyer, a student at Wartburg College in Waverly Iowa, left undecided after listening to the Republican presidential candidate.

"A lot of the attention in the media goes to Donald Trump and it's nice to hear about people in the Republican Party that are not Trump," Nullmeyer told ABC News.

Rand Paul addressing students at the University of Northern Iowa

A photo posted by jesshop23 (@jesshop23) on Oct 13, 2015 at 5:43pm PDT

Nullmeyer said that Paul's stance on Syria resonated with him, but other candidates appeal to him too.

"At the moment, I wouldn't say that I’m going to vote for him," Nullmeyer said. "Bernie Sanders is my favorite at the moment."

Sanders, the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate, was a popular target for Paul in his speech to students. He often attacked Sanders' pledge to make public colleges free.

"Nothing's free. Somebody else has to pay for it. So you can't succumb to the notion of a politician giving you free stuff," Paul told students at Loras College in Dubuque. "What we should ask is a more insightful question: Why the hell is college so expensive?"

Paul tried to appeal to the students that he is a "different type" of Republican. He drew applause when talking about criminal justice reform. He peppered his speech with references to the popular HBO series "Game of Thrones," drawing laughs from students. At times he also waxed professorial, referencing thinkers like Thomas Paine and Milton Friedman. He also told the story of Richard Jewell, the Georgia man falsely connected to the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996 -– an anecdote that may have been lost on his college-age crowds.

"I kind of talk to them the same way," Paul said. "And I assume that they're there and eager to find out more about me and so I'm not a sort of a big backslapping kind of politician, but I do try to get the message out."