by LIZ HALLORAN
April 21, 2014 12:35 PM ET
For more than a year, GOP Sen. Rand Paul has been staking out positions on issues that resonate in the black community, including school choice and prison sentencing reform. And he's been showing up in some unexpected — for a Republican — venues, including historically black colleges.
It's stirred an unusual degree of curiosity about the freshman Kentucky senator — and 2016 GOP presidential prospect — among the Democratic Party's most reliable voting bloc.
"He's a different voice in the arena that we don't traditionally hear," says Lorraine Miller, acting head of the NAACP, who expects to invite Paul to speak at the organization's July national conference in Las Vegas.
"He's an engaging guy – that's why we want to talk to him," Miller says.
Miller is not the only black leader who has been intrigued by Paul, whose father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, had three unsuccessful presidential runs and amassed a fervent Libertarian following.
Her predecessor, Benjamin Jealous, has previously hailed Paul's position on reforming drug and sentencing laws, which disproportionately affect African American individuals and families. And Jealous has pointedly noted that while an NAACP poll last year showed that a majority of African Americans believe that Republicans "don't care at all about civil rights," about 14 percent indicated they would vote for a GOP candidate if he or she were committed to civil rights.