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CINCINNATI — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul received a positive but lukewarm response when he spoke here before the National Urban League conference.

Before a half-filled auditorium of about 60 people at the Duke Energy Convention, Paul highlighted policies of his that he thinks could bridge the gap between minority communities and the GOP. His 30-minute speech that repeatedly referenced civil rights icons Martin Luther King and Clyde Kennard, a black man who attempted to enroll in Mississippi Southern College during the 1950s.

Paul spoke of his support for restoring voting rights for felons and other criminal justice reforms. He also outlined his Economic Freedom Zones proposal for poor neighborhoods.

"I won't sit idly by and watch our criminal justice system continue to consume, confine and define our young men," Paul, R-Ky., said. "I say we take a stand and fight for justice now."

That received applause from the audience.

Since Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, no Republican presidential candidate has received more than 15 percent of the black vote.

Paul, who is considering a run for president in 2016, hopes to change that.

He's visited traditionally black institutions like Howard University in an attempt to broaden his base.

Paul's Economic Freedom Zones proposal would allow government to establish zones in cities and/or zip codes that meet certain markers for poverty. It would lower corporate and personal taxes in these zones, provide tax credits to cover education expenses for children and lower regulations on businesses in these zones.

Paul has also introduced legislation that would restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons in federal elections.

His efforts, however, have met with skepticism from some in the black community.

Baltimore's mayor, who is secretary of the Democratic National Committee, penned an op-ed published on Cincinnati.com Friday that said blacks shouldn't be fooled by Paul.

"For Paul to claim to stand up for our values while opposing policy after policy that advances our community is not the way to do this,"wrote Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

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