Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul told fellow Republicans on Tuesday that the future of their party depends on them connecting with Hispanics in a more empathetic way and on getting in front of immigration reform – a message that further signals his flirtation with a 2016 presidential run.

“If we are to change people’s attitudes toward … the Republican Party, we have to show up and we have to have something to say,” Paul told a small group of conservatives gathered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. “I hope to be part of that dialogue.”

This certainly was not the first time that Paul, since being elected to the Senate in 2010, has attempted to connect with Hispanics and other minorities.

However, Republicans’ interest in his policy vision and his vision for broadening the party base continues to grow as he ascends in the very, very early 2016 polls and travels the country. Recent stops have included those in Democrat-heavy Detroit and at the University of California, Berkeley.

Paul said Tuesday that Republicans need to focus on such issues as reforming the country’s work visa system and improving educational and employment opportunities for minorities.

However, the GOP must first make clear it is not “just the party of deportation,” he argued.

“The bottom line is that the Hispanic community … is not going to hear us until we get beyond that issue,” Paul told attendees at a symposium sponsored by the conservative Media Research Center and the American Principles Project. “They’re not going to care whether we go to the same church or have the same values or believe in the same kind of future of the country until we get beyond that. … We’ve got to get beyond deportation to get to the rest of the issues.”

He attempted to highlight his point, in part, by noting that 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney at one point touted the idea of self-deportation, and won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Paul, 51, expressed some optimism about Congress accomplishing some type of immigration reform this year, particularly one expanding the country’s work visa program.

He called the expansion of visas for high-tech workers “a no-brainer.”

Paul spoke as his profile continues to rise as a potential 2016 contender, and amid efforts to court donors, assemble a nationwide support network and win the confidence of Washington Republicans wary of his less-mainstream, more-libertarian views.

Paul’s message also comes amid criticism that neither party has really gone beyond election-year efforts to win the support of Hispanics.

Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, told the Newseum audience that conservatives and Republicans “haven’t been very consistent” in their effort.

“And we don’t need to pander to them like the left,” he said.

Paul said a lack of empathy among Republicans has hurt efforts to connect with minorities and the working class and that Democrats have always been better in this area.

“I’ve been saying over and over that the Republican Party cannot win until it’s more diverse, until it looks like the rest of America,” he said.

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