Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulVaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Journalist Dave Levinthal discusses 'uptick' in congressional stock trade violations MORE on Tuesday jumped into the 2016 race for the White House, casting himself as an outsider who can “beat the Washington machine” to claim the Republican nomination.
“I have a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words,” the Kentucky Tea Party favorite told the cheering crowd that attended his rally at a Louisville hotel ballroom.
“We have come to take our country back.”
Paul is seeking to expand his libertarian brand to a more mainstream GOP audience without turning off core supporters.
It’s a tricky challenge for a Republican who has fought the GOP establishment since he first announced he was running for the Senate, but who now counts Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as an ally.
Paul criticized foreign aid and vowed to put an end to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, two issues popular with his core supporters.
“The president created this vast dragnet by executive order. And as president on Day One, I would immediately end this unconstitutional surveillance,” he said to loud applause.
He also touted term limits, a balanced-budget amendment and criminal sentencing reform.
Yet the speech included signs of Paul’s shift to more traditional Republican positions, such as embracing a muscular foreign policy.
“The enemy is radical Islam. You can’t get around it,” Paul said. “And not only will I name the enemy, I will do whatever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind.”
Paul warned that the United States cannot afford to be weakened by overseas entanglements, but underlined his willingness to use force when necessary.
“In my vision for America, freedom and prosperity at home can only be achieved if we defend against enemies who are dead-set on attacking us,” Paul said. “Without question we must defend ourselves.”
However, Paul said, “conservatives should not succumb to the notion that a government that is inept at home will somehow succeed in building nations abroad.”
“I envision an America with a national defense unparalleled, undefeatable and unencumbered by overseas nation-building,” he said.
Paul is an ophthalmologist first elected in 2010 as a Tea Party insurgent. He defeated a GOP establishment favorite backed by McConnell.
While McConnell and Paul have since forged an alliance and most of Kentucky’s Republican House delegation has rallied behind his candidacy, Paul faces deep skepticism from foreign policy hawks, who have assailed him for his non-interventionist stances.
“If he wants to convince defense hawks, he has to prove it with his rhetoric and his votes between now and the primary,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said.
A Republican nonprofit group announced it will launch a $1 million national ad campaign on Wednesday attacking Paul as “dangerous” on foreign policy. The ads will air nationally during prime time on Fox News and follow Paul on the road through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
It’s not just foreign policy hawks who are greeting Paul’s candidacy with suspicion.
Although Paul is himself a devout Christian, many evangelical conservatives prefer Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
“Conservatives are not just looking for a candidate who changes positions because of the electorate,” Steve Deace, an influential conservative radio host from Iowa, says of Paul. “We want a candidate who can change the electorate to our positions, and that wasn’t in the speech.”
Paul inherited many of his followers from his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a frequent GOP presidential contender who last ran in 2012.
In a sign that Paul wants to move away from his father’s more isolationist policies, however, the elder Paul did not have a speaking role in Tuesday’s campaign announcement.
GOP strategist Nino Saviano said that Paul has positioned himself in a GOP sweet spot: to the right of establishment candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and to the left of hard-line social conservatives like Cruz.
“I see him getting a bump in the polls, probably larger than Cruz’s,” Saviano added. “Rand Paul is going after a much broader conservative base. And because he is more of an unconventional Republican, I can see him even crossing party lines to gain support on some issues.”
The Kentuckian is the second major Republican to enter the race, following Cruz’s announcement two weeks ago. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is focusing his campaign on foreign policy, is expected to formally launch his bid next week.
To win the GOP nomination, Paul hopes to attract younger voters, libertarians and even minorities who have left the GOP.
He intends to argue that his efforts to expand the party make him the candidate with the best chance to defeat likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election.
Prominent minority supporters at the event helped to underscore Paul’s promise to grow the Republican Party. The senator was introduced by former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), who is black, and characterized himself as an outsider in his announcement.
“We’ve come to take our country back from the special interests that use Washington as their personal piggy bank,” said Paul. “The special interests that are more concerned with their personal welfare than the general welfare. The Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped.”
Following his Tuesday announcement, the “Stand With Rand” tour will take Paul to Milford, N.H., on Wednesday; Yorktown, S.C., on Thursday; Iowa City, Iowa; on Friday; and Las Vegas on Saturday.
Paul’s message will face an early test on the campaign trail. The states Paul plans to visit in the coming days will be especially critical for him.
Republican strategists say he has as much range as any other candidate and is well-positioned to win at least one early-voting state.
In Iowa, Paul hopes to build on his father’s base of support and barnstorm the dozens of college campuses in the state to seek students’ support.
In New Hampshire, he believes he can capitalize on the state’s open primary system and strong independent streak.
Of course, if Paul falls flat in these states, it could reinforce the notion that, like his father, his appeal is limited.
Originally posted at 9:42 a.m. and last updated at 8:12 p.m.
Education: Paul attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He left before graduating to attend Duke University, where he received an medical degree in ophthalmology and completed his residency.
Family: Paul and his wife, Kelley, will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this year. They have three sons: William, 21, Duncan, 18, and Robert, 15. Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), ran for president three times, twice as a Republican and once as a libertarian.
Occupation: Paul practiced ophthalmology for nearly 20 years before he was elected to the Senate. He had a private practice in his adopted hometown of Bowling Green, Ky. Paul says he was led to his specialty when his grandmother began losing her eyesight. While in the Senate, Paul has continued practicing medicine through pro bono work for underserved communities in Kentucky and on mission trips to Guatemala.
Congress: Paul was elected to his first term in the Senate in 2010. He is up for reelection in 2016 and will be running simultaneously for the Senate and the White House. Kentucky law bars a candidate from running for two federal offices at the same time, but the Republican Party of Kentucky is considering changing its rules to hold a caucus instead of a primary to accommodate Paul.
Other: Rand is short for Randal. Paul is not named after the author of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, as some have speculated.
Quirks: In 2011, Paul told The Hill that he often cuts his own hair. Every Dec. 23, Paul participates in the Festivus “Airing of Grievances” popularized by “Seinfeld.”