Presidential races

Paul seeks Republican revolution

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Sen. Rand Paul wants to change the GOP from the inside by becoming the party’s standard-bearer in 2016.

The Kentucky Republican poised to launch a presidential bid on Tuesday thinks he can capture the Oval Office prize that eluded his father by pulling the GOP in a more libertarian direction.

His strategy, honed over four years in the Senate, is to run as a different kind of Republican, who can expand the party’s appeal to young people and minorities who have soured on the Republican brand.

{mosads}“I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to go to places Republicans haven’t gone,” Paul told Megyn Kelly on Fox News last month. “Not just throwing out red meat, but actually throwing out something intellectually enticing to people who haven’t been listening to our message before.” 

The senator’s candidacy faces deep skepticism and even hostility from some GOP corners, but Republican strategists see an opening for Paul to sell himself as the person best-equipped to revitalize the GOP brand and defeat likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“He’s putting his money where his mouth is,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Everyone from the grassroots to the establishment is frustrated over losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, so he’s hitting on the things that could turn that around. The question is whether he can tie it all together.”

Paul is already making the electability argument to skeptical conservatives.

When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) became the first Republican to enter the race last month, Paul went on Fox News to argue that he would have more “win-ability” in the general election due to his ability to appeal to independents.

Polling places Paul squarely in the middle of the GOP pack, with the latest Fox News Survey putting him in sixth place, with 9 percent support.

He consistently outperforms other Republicans when polled head-to-head against Clinton, however. A Quinnipiac University survey released this week found that Paul was the top Republican challenger to Clinton in Pennsylvania and Ohio, two battleground states that will be crucial in the 2016 race.

“He’s viewed as creative, innovation-minded, and an additive force in the party,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “But if he wants to make the case that as the nominee he’ll be the most electable, he’s going to have to build a coalition of voters unlike anything the GOP has ever seen, and do something that would really turn the ideological battle upside down.”

Paul has surrounded himself with campaign advisers known for breaking the mold.

His campaign manager in waiting, Chip Englander, managed Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s successful bid in Illinois, which was notable for making inroads in parts of the state that Republicans had traditionally written off.

Paul’s staff moves also reflect his courtship of Silicon Valley, where he has sought to capitalize on the libertarian streak that runs through the industry. Paul’s well-regarded digital guru is based in Austin, another national tech hub, and last month he trekked to the city to open an office and speak at the SXSW music festival.

The senator’s opposition to the drug war and support for criminal sentencing reform could endear him to the younger voters who have lately been voting for Democrats. In February, college students from across the country showed up in droves to propel Paul to a victory in the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

“You can see it when you go across the country, and he’s able to go to places like Berkeley and get a standing ovation,” Paul’s political adviser, Doug Stafford, said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show Thursday. “And you can see it … with almost 2 million people following him on Facebook, and interactions on social media like Instagram and Snapchat where a lot of younger folks are, he definitely leads the field among most politicians with things like that.” 

But Paul’s most aggressive outreach in recent months has been to African-Americans, the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency.

Last fall, Paul traveled to Ferguson, Mo., in the heat of the protests there to meet with black leaders. He has also made trips to Detroit, Los Angeles and Atlanta, and made his experiences there a lynchpin of his early stump speeches.

Paul has talked at length about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “two Americas,” arguing that there’s one where citizens are free to pursue their lives and one where “liberal policies have failed our inner cities” with unnecessary laws, burdensome fines and regulations, and overly strict sentencing guidelines that keep people mired in poverty.

That pitch isn’t limited to black voters — Paul talks about the “undercurrent of unease” that he says permeates the country, whether he’s addressing a rowdy crowd of conservatives at CPAC, rebutting President Obama’s State of the Union address or speaking in a classroom at the historically black Bowie State University in Maryland.

But ironically, if Paul hopes to see his coalition blossom, he’ll first have to expand his appeal within the Republican Party, particularly on the issue of military force.

Establishment Republicans and foreign policy hawks have assailed Paul for his non-interventionist views, and rumors have been flying that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson plans to spend millions of dollars opposing his candidacy.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the GOP standard-bearer in 2008, famously called Paul a “wacko bird” during a fight over drone policy. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is likely to announce his own presidential bid next week, has called Paul “the chief cheerleader of Obama’s foreign policy.”

“It’s going to be important for him to at least neutralize some of those who are going to be against him on this,” Mackowiak said. “That’s particularly true in the donor community. You don’t want to have major donors who, in addition to not giving to you, are also willing to fund ads against you in a primary.”

If Paul is not able to sell Republicans on his own foreign policy vision, it may not matter how much range he has or how many new groups he can bring into the fold.

“His success will be inversely proportional to where on the radar national security and foreign policy are for Republican voters and donors,” O’Connell said.

“If those issues remain high on their lists, he’s going to have a tough time breaking out. The only thing he can do to smooth that over is continue to claim that he’s got the best shot at taking down Clinton. If that polling stops, he’s dead in the water.” 

Tags Hillary Clinton John McCain Marco Rubio Rand Paul Ted Cruz

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