Rand Paul launches 2016 bid with attack on GOP – Politico
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rand Paul took aim at his fellow Republicans as he formally launched his presidential bid on Tuesday in Louisville, railing against his party for succumbing to special interests and framing himself as a fiercely anti-establishment figure who would appeal to a broad swath of the electorate.
The first-term Kentucky senator and ophthalmologist described himself as a Washington outsider whose frustration with the party drove him to first seek office a few years ago.
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“Too often, when Republicans have won, we’ve squandered our victory by becoming part of the Washington machine,” Paul said during a rousing rally with chants of “President Paul” from the packed crowd at the historic Galt House Hotel. “If we support a candidate who is simply Democrat-light, why bother? What’s the point?”
Seated just off the stage was a diverse crowd of supporters that showed the cross section of voters Paul is trying to appeal to. It also highlighted his central challenge in the GOP nominating fight – claiming the anti-establishment mantle while capturing a broader portion of the electorate than his father Ron Paul.
Ron Paul, who spent more than three decades as a marginalized player in the House of Representatives, had a devoted national following but fell far short of contending in his unsuccessful 2008 and 2012 GOP bids and in his 1988 presidential run as Libertarian party nominee. Even in 2012, at the height of his popularity, Ron Paul failed to win the popular vote in a single state.
The elder Paul did not figure prominently in the production on Tuesday. He was seated in the crowd and Rand Paul briefly mentioned his mother and father from the podium, but Ron Paul did not have a speaking role at the event.
Still, Rand Paul, 52, hit on some of the same themes associated with his uncompromising father, who departed Congress in 2013 but continues to deliver speeches and write doom-and-gloom columns about the dangers posed by the federal government.
“Big government and debt doubled under a Republican administration and is now tripling under Barack Obama’s watch,” Paul said, in an apparent jab at former President George W. Bush whose brother Jeb is a 2016 contender. “We’ve come to take our country back from the special interests that use Washington as their personal piggy bank.”
Paul’s announcement makes him the second official candidate in the Republican field. Fellow Republican Sen. Ted Cruz launched his campaign last month, and a third Republican senator, Marco Rubio of Florida, is expected to announce his bid next week.
Cruz on Tuesday morning emailed a statement welcoming his “friend Rand Paul” into the primary. “His entry into the race will no doubt raise the bar of competition, help make us all stronger, and ultimately ensure that the GOP nominee is equipped to beat Hillary Clinton and to take back the White House for Republicans in 2016,” Cruz said.
So far, Paul is trailing in the polls behind both establishment candidates and those considered long shots. A Fox News poll from last week showed Paul pulling 9 percent of the vote among likely GOP voters, behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 15 percent, former Florida Gov. Bush at 12 percent, neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 11 percent, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Cruz at 10 percent.
The rally on Tuesday was a manifestation of his attempt to boost his standing, particularly among young and minority voters. It’s hard to remember a Republican candidate who has so highlighted diversity in a campaign launch: on the stage behind him were women, blacks, and young people – all voting blocs that have broken sharply away from Republicans in recent elections. He promised to be a different kind of figure, and said that Democratic policies had failed minorities. Two of the first speakers of the event were Former Rep. J.C. Watts and Pastor J.D. Williams –notable figures in the African-American community.
Paul also addressed head-on an area that has at times alienated both him and his father – foreign policy. On Tuesday, he struck a delicate balance, suggesting that he’d project military strength, but conveying that he is more wary of intervention than other Republican contenders.
On Thursday, Paul will stage a campaign event at a venue rich with military symbolism: The deck of the U.S.S. Yorktown, a World War II-era aircraft carrier stationed in South Carolina.
The visit is a response to critics who question whether he’s strong enough on defense and foreign policy for a traditionally hawkish party — especially at a moment when issues such as the rise of ISIS, the Iran nuclear deal and Russian aggression have dominated the debate.
On Monday, a hawkish nonprofit group announced that it has already taken out a $1 million ad buy for a spot that blasts the senator over previous comments he’s made about Iran.
The Kentucky senator also faces conservative unease with some of his stances on social policy. Paul breaks with the party mainstream on drug policy — he’s the only Republican presidential hopeful to officially support marijuana decriminalization — on criminal justice reform and on voting rights issues. On Twitter, he recently described his ideology this way: “I’m a constitutional conservative. Libertarianish. Have a foot in both camps.”
Some of those positions have alienated constituencies that have served as traditional sources of GOP campaign cash, forcing Paul to turn to Silicon Valley — which looks favorably on his libertarian bent — and to focus on online fundraising, a staple of his father’s campaigns.
The Kentucky senator’s rise has been meteoric. After spending nearly two decades as a physician and anti-tax activist, he catapulted to national prominence during the 2010 midterms and became the face of an ascendant tea party movement. That year, he demolished then-Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the handpicked choice of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, in the primary; In the fall, he easily prevailed over state Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, in the general election.
Paul immediately made a splash in the Senate, becoming the chamber’s leading libertarian voice. In March 2013, he drew headlines for staging a nearly 13-hour filibuster in which he protested the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes.
All the while, those close to Paul say, he took steps to plot a presidential bid. He made concessions to the demands of mainstream GOP politics: in 2012, despite his misgivings, he endorsed Mitt Romney’s bid for president when his father would not. After Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, the senator and his advisers set upon a detailed plan to position himself for a presidential run.
The first step, according to those involved in the early discussions, centered on building and professionalizing the political infrastructure his father created and placing skilled operatives in the early primary states that could decide his fate. Paul brought on veteran strategists like Mike Biundo, who served as Rick Santorum’s campaign manager in 2012, to head up his New Hampshire push and Steve Grubbs, a former Iowa Republican Party chairman, to oversee his Iowa effort.
“Nationally, he needs to win in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, or he can’t win the nomination,” said Steve Duprey, an influential Republican national committeeman from New Hampshire. “My sense is that there may be win, place, show, and almost show tickets out of Iowa and New Hampshire, but South Carolina will likely winnow it to win place and show. It is important he breakthrough in one of the early states.”
Many Republicans see Paul’s task as threading a needle as he tries to maintain the support of tea party activists and libertarians who propelled him to power while also expanding beyond their base of support.
“His victory lies in his ability to enthuse enough self-identified independents to the polls while keeping his father’s followers satisfied and skeptics of his foreign policy stances muted,” said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who worked on Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign.
The balancing act may prove challenging. John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster who has worked for several past presidential candidates, pointed out that even if Paul fared strongly in conservative early primary states he would need to find a path in the larger, more politically and demographically complex states that succeeded them on the calendar.
“He’s cliff diving into large multi-state primaries,” McLaughlin said, “that will determine whether or not he has broad national appeal.”