If Rand Paul sees himself as the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nominee, it's clear he's prepping for Hillary Clinton to be his Democratic opponent.
A full three and a half years out from the next presidential election, the Kentucky senator spoke before the Iowa Republican Party Friday night in a speech that rivaled a campaign rally. He latched onto the GOP's latest rallying cry against the Obama administration's handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead last September, to focus his criticism on the former secretary of state.
"First question to Hillary Clinton: Where in the hell were the Marines?" he asked.
This week saw a resurgence in the GOP-led crusade to surface what some in the party have called a massive "cover-up." Their efforts were already successful in blocking Obama's hand-picked nominee to succeed Clinton at the State Department, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, leaving Clinton herself as next-in-line to be cast with blame.
"It was inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty, and it should preclude her from holding higher office," Paul said.
Paul was coy in expounding on his presidential ambitions, telling reporters Friday that while he had not ruled out gunning for the party’s nomination, he would not make a decision until 2014. Clinton has largely avoided addressing 2016 chatter, though a number of polls matching her up with an array of hypothetical opponents show Americans see her as a favorite to lead the Democrats in the next election cycle.
The roughly 500 attendees at the state GOP’s annual Lincoln Dinner seemed keenly aware of Iowa’s electoral influence in the early presidential landscape. “The process of selecting the next leader of the free world begins in Iowa, and it’s already begun,” GOP Rep. Steve King said earlier in the evening.
Paul, who joined the theme of Obamacare-bashing seen throughout the annual event, said that after the Republican loss in the last election—largely due to lacking appeal with minority voters—the party needed to adjust how it treated Hispanic voters and work toward a deal on immigration reform.
"We have to change the way we're talking about it and who we are if we want attract the Latino vote," he said.
"If kids think we're hostile toward them, they'll never vote," he added of appealing to young people. "We're an increasingly diverse nation, and I think we do need to reach out to other people that aren't like us, don't look like us, don't wear the same clothes, that aren't exactly who we are. We're going to have to do something."