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FORT MITCHELL, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul built his presidential campaign on being "a different kind of Republican," which has meant an outreach to minority voters.
But Paul's comments about the riots in Baltimore following the death of an African-American man while in police custody have been criticized as out of touch for someone who has spent so much time seeking inroads with the black community.
"I came through the train on Baltimore last night, and I'm glad the train didn't stop," the Kentucky senator told radio host Laura Ingraham this week, with a slight chuckle.
On Friday, Paul regretted that he'd come across as dismissive of the anguish in the city. But he put the blame on Democratic critics, not himself, saying they misinterpreted his remarks.
"Saying that you weren't going to stop, you know, didn't want to stop during a riot, I thought that was just sort of an offhand thing that wasn't intended to be anything more than that," he said. "You always regret offhand comments after you say them because people misinterpret them. But I think people shouldn't misinterpret my intentions. I'm one of the few people ... traveling the country trying to come up with solutions for our big cities."
In the two years leading up to his presidential campaign, Paul has visited troubled big cities such as Detroit, promoting "economic freedom zones" where federal taxes would be slashed temporarily to spur growth. He's introduced legislation that would restore voting rights to some nonviolent convicted felons and proposes eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenses. After the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, he said police departments should be barred from buying excess military equipment.
"I think I have shown my concern for our big cities' problems, my concern for those who live in poverty and my concern for those who are treated unfairly by criminal justice by my actions," Paul said. "One comment, I don't think, changes what we are doing."
On Friday, prosecutors announced they had filed charges against six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, for manslaughter, murder and more. His death led to days of rioting that prompted a response from the National Guard and a citywide curfew. Some blamed the anger on income disparity between Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods, which are mostly black, and wealthier neighborhoods.
"I think the sooner you get justice the sooner you bring back calm," Paul said of the charges.
Asked about income inequality Friday in a meeting with 13 business leaders from northern Kentucky and southern Ohio, Paul said it should be understood in a broad context.
"The poor have gotten richer in our country, in every decade, and so have the rich," he said. "The rich are getting richer at a faster clip and there are some people who are left behind."
He said more economic growth and less national debt would mean "everybody does better." But he said some problems can't be fixed by the government. He cited the book "Coming Apart" by Charles Murray that argues people are more successful if they wait to have children until they are married.
"The No. 1 risk factor for poverty in our country is having your kids before you are married," Paul said. "That's not me casting aspersions on anyone. It's just a fact, and we should tell our kids this and try to encourage them to make good decisions."
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