Can Rand Paul Break Past Controversy Over Civil Rights Act Comments?

Sen. Rand Paul marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act at a ceremony this week honoring the late Maurice Rabb, a renowned ophthalmologist and civil rights leader.

It was part of his aggressive outreach to African-Americans and other nontraditional GOP voters as he works to expand the Republican Party and as he crisscrosses the country laying groundwork for a potential presidential campaign.

It's a community in which he has some fences to mend.

While campaigning for the Senate four years ago, Paul sparked a firestorm for questioning parts of the historic law, especially its underpinnings that place restrictions on private property.

Paul is now considered a likely presidential contender. And as the most active Republican leader in the effort to recruit African-Americans to the GOP, his comments from four years ago have become a thorn in his side.

As Paul works to appeal to African-Americans on the policy front, he'll need to continue sharpening his message skills.

"He learned a very, very valuable lesson: If it's too complicated to explain your position, you're probably in trouble," said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell.

He's tried to clean up and clarify his comments about the Civil Rights Act, and in May 2012, he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that he would have voted for the bill in 1964 if he had the chance. He "would have been there marching with Martin Luther King" during the civil rights movement, he said.

From a strategy standpoint, O'Connell said Paul has "gotten a lot better" at talking to the media and it's "wise" for him to be active in appealing to the African-American community, not only for his own political future, but for the Republican Party as a whole.

"His job between now and then is to continue what he's doing with minority outreach and try to bury this every way possible," he said.

Read more from Ashley Killough at CNN.com

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