Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul met with southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy during a question-and-answer session in the town of Mesquite with about 50 supporters and activists interested in land rights.
In a state where 80 percent of the land is under the umbrella of the Federal Bureau of Land Management, Paul indicated he supported Bundy's fight with the government over the right to use such public lands for grazing cattle.
"I'd either sell or turn over all the land management to the states," Paul, a Republican presidential candidate and senator from Kentucky, said, landing him big applause at a campaign event. "I don't think the federal government needs to be involved."
The meeting northeast of Las Vegas was part of a statewide tour with stops from Las Vegas to rural Elko.
Paul went on to call the government a 'bully.'
"You run into problems now with the federal government being, you know, this bully — this big huge government bully," he said. "You would have less of that if you had more local ownership of the land. State ownership would be better, but even better would be private ownership."
The Kentucky senator stopped at casino resorts and ballrooms Monday as part of his "Stand with Rand" tour, looking to win over small-government Republicans he believes are key to a successful result in Nevada's February presidential caucus.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Paul said he'd favor transferring federally owned land back to state control.
"I think almost all land use issues and animal issues, endangered species issues, ought to be handled at the state level," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think that the government shouldn't interfere with state decisions, so if a state decides to have medical marijuana or something like that, it should be respected as a state decision."
Paul's meeting with Bundy recalled one of the more dramatic conflicts over land rights in recent years.
Hundreds of armed supporters joined Bundy in April 2013 to stop a roundup of his cattle near Bunkerville about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The Bureau of Land Management says he owes more than $1 million in grazing fees over more than 20 years. Bundy argues the federal government has no authority there.
Bundy told the AP: "In general, I think we're in tune with each other." He added: "I don't think we need to ask Washington, D.C. for this land. It's our land."
Paul, the first 2016 presidential candidate to visit the small towns of Elko and Mesquite, says his views on limited government and allocating more power to states will help him win over Nevada voters. Paul enjoys residual support from Nevada's libertarian Republican Party due in part to the 2008 and 2012 presidential bids of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul. The younger Paul has visited the state several times since announcing his presidential bid, including a recent April rally in Las Vegas.
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