MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul made his first campaign visit to Minnesota on Monday.

The U.S. senator from Kentucky toured college campuses in the Twin Cities and Duluth, and he met with student supporters in Rochester ahead of Tuesday’s GOP presidential debate in Milwaukee.

Paul continues to lag behind in national polls, but he is trying to carve out a niche among younger voters, especially in colleges and universities.

Hundreds of students showed up to see Paul at the University of Minnesota on Monday. Some said they came out of curiosity.

“I think his libertarian edge appeals to young people,” said Rilyn Eischens, a University of Minnesota junior. “The anti-establishment side is very appealing to millennials our age who are very disenfranchised with politics at the moment.”

At Coffman Student Union, on the university’s Twin Cities campus, Paul sharply criticized the government’s post 9/11 collection of private data.

He said the federal government was too big, and too intrusive.

“I want a government that minds its own business,” Paul said. “I want a government so small you can barely see it. I want a government that stays the hell out of my life!”

Instead of focusing on his fellow Republican candidates, Paul targeted Democrat Bernie Sanders, who is also appealing to millennial voters and who is promising free college tuition.

“You can’t say, ‘Oh, Bernie’s great!'” said Paul. “‘Bernie’s going to give me free stuff. Bernie’s going to pay for my college.’ There is no free lunch! Bernie can only pay for your college by taking it from somebody else.”

The senator is hoping to appeal to Minnesota’s libertarian streak: the same one his father Ron Paul captured in 2012, finishing second in Minnesota’s precinct caucuses.

Students who said they are undecided say they liked what they heard.

“One thing I like about him is that he really speaks his mind,” said Dylan Mato, a junior at the university. “It doesn’t seem like he fits into that perfect narrative of Republican or Democrat.”

Pat Kessler

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