(URBANDALE, Iowa) — Take one look at Sen. Rand Paul’s tie and you’d think the Kentucky Republican is already running for president.
In homage to the state of Iowa, Paul donned a maroon tie bearing ears of yellow corn Wednesday morning as he spoke at the Westside Conservative Club Breakfast in Urbandale. The breakfast was one of the final stops on his three-day, eight-city tour through Iowa, which had him crisscrossing the state, going everywhere from Okoboji to Hiawatha, spanning the entire length of the state.
“We’ve done a lot of driving. We’ve seen a lot of corn,” Paul joked as conservative activists ate breakfast at the Machine Shed restaurant, a ritual stop for Republican politicians.
Paul is among the flurry of candidates dropping into Iowa this month — from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to Texas Gov. Rick Perry — hoping to leave a lasting impression one year before the presidential race heats up in the state that is traditionally the first stop in the race to the White House.
Paul stressed the need for the GOP to be a more “diverse” and “welcoming party,” pointing to immigration as an issue Republicans should be open to.
“We have to have the right policy on immigration, but we can’t be the party that appears not to like people because they’re immigrants,” Paul said. “We can’t be the party of hostility towards people who don’t necessarily look like us, who have a different background. We need to welcome people to our country, and be a welcoming party.”
“There is some immigration reform that Republicans, frankly, should be for, but it can’t be done by edict. It can’t be done by royal or imperial decree by the president, ‘cause it creates havoc and that’s what we got now, is havoc on the border,” he added.
Earlier in the week, Paul extricated himself from a politically tricky situation in Okoboji, Iowa, where two DREAMers, whom Paul later described as “Kamikaze people,” confronted Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, over his immigration policies. Paul, who was seated next to King, slipped out of the conversation before the confrontation began. The video of the moment went viral.
Throughout his tour of the state, Paul has urged Iowans to vote for Republicans this cycle, specifically promoting the party’s Senate candidate Joni Ernst, who could help Republicans win back the Senate in November.
“If we can’t win Iowa, we can’t win the country anymore,” Paul said. “Joni Ernst wins here in Iowa, we probably win the Senate, because Iowa’s a tough state, and that’s an encouragement to ya, and a little bit of an admonishment. We gotta do better.”
But while he advocated for GOP candidates in the state, Paul also dished out criticism for a fellow Republican: Perry, who comes to Iowa on Saturday for a four-day tour of his own. The Kentucky senator criticized Perry for a Texas policy which provides in-state tuition rates to undocumented students, saying it encourages illegal immigration.
“President Obama won’t send them home, and Gov. Perry has done the same thing by giving them in-state tuition. That’s a beacon without any kind of border security,” Paul said in a Wall Street Journal interview.
The criticism of Perry can be seen as an early warning shot against a potential opponent as Paul contemplates whether he will run for president for 2016.
Asked whether he had a tie for each of the 50 states he would campaign in if he did run, Paul dryly joked, “By coincidence I have a corn tie, and by coincidence, I have one in the shape of South Carolina. I don’t know why.”
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
MJ Lee, CNN Politics Reporter
Phil Mattingly, Tom LoBianco and David Mark, CNN