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Highland Park — Rand Paul has made Detroit a regular stop in the past two years, but he returned to the area Friday as a Republican presidential candidate. He used the first of several appearances around the state Friday and Saturday to try to set himself apart from the other 14 GOP hopefuls.

The Kentucky senator toured the Democratic stronghold of Highland Park with city, business and faith leaders Friday afternoon. Given the chance to make his case in front of several dozen local residents and campaign supporters, he laid out three areas where his policies stand out.

“I’m probably the leading Republican talking about criminal justice,” Paul said. “I’m also the one Republican that has a plan for our big cities and some of the poverty (issues) in the sense that I think that rather than send our money to Washington, we should leave it in our communities.

“I’m also a believer in your right to privacy and our right to be left alone. I don’t think the government should collect all of our phone records all of the time without a warrant.”

When Paul stopped in Detroit in December 2013 to help open a new Michigan Republican Party office in a northwest neighborhood, he advocated reaching out to black voters in a way the GOP has failed to do in the past. The candidate has a campaign message he believes will appeal to inner-city audiences.

It includes reducing mandatory drug sentences and the creation of “economic freedom zones” — a tax-slashing strategy designed to boost Detroit and other areas in need. It calls for reducing individual and corporate income taxes to a flat rate of 5 percent in areas hardest hit by unemployment, as well as lowering payroll taxes and eliminating capital gains taxes to attract more residents and businesses.

Highland Park leaders took the senator on a brief tour of the city that is under state oversight for financial problems, highlighting their own efforts to revitalize hard-hit areas. It is in mediation talks with its creditors and owes the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department more than $20 million in unpaid water bills that Highland Park officials are fighting in court.

Stops included an aging apartment building on E. Grand Street near Woodward Avenue that is getting a facelift. Mayor Deandre Windom said they will be the city’s first loft apartments, and funding for the improvements was generated by a tax increment financing plan.

Later on the tour, officials stopped at a new housing development along Midland Street put together with the help of federal funding.

“Twenty-five homes have been built here, and they’re all occupied,” said Edwin Harlin, Michigan State Housing Authority’s director for Southeast Michigan.

Getting his message across to a voting bloc that has traditionally voted Democratic will likely be a major challenge for Paul. Amid an overwhelmingly supportive audience Friday, a lone heckler appeared who seemingly had only one complaint to make: “He’s a Republican!”

Windom, a Democrat, welcomed Paul and invited any other willing presidential candidate to the city to learn about the issues it faces. But he made his position clear.

“This gathering is no way shape form or fashion of endorsing a candidate,” he said. “We’re here to talk about solutions — to explore solutions and figure out solutions for our people and our community.”

Paul was ending Friday with a fundraiser in Metro Detroit that was expected to attract 75 people. He continues his Michigan tour Saturday in Shelby Township at a breakfast and finishes in Holland with U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids area, at a brewery.

In other Michigan campaign news, Ohio Gov. John Kasich will speak at the Ottawa County GOP’s July 25 Lincoln Day dinner in Grandville, according to a spokesman for the pro-Kasich super political action committee New Day for America.

JLynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034

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