Running for Senate, Rand Paul lights a fire under Kentucky GOP
Thursday, February 4, 2010
LOUISVILLE -- Rand Paul believes he was born to lead the anti-establishment movement sweeping the GOP.
"I would say if there is a candidate who comes from the movement, who has never been a politician," Paul said, "I'm it."
While Republicans across the country, from Scott Brown in Massachusetts to Marco Rubio in Florida, have succeeded in tapping into the anger of the "tea party" crowd, Paul, the third son of the anti-tax icon and Texas congressman Ron Paul, is a product of it. The insurgent GOP primary candidate, who wants to succeed retiring Sen. Jim Bunning in Kentucky, is being heralded as the second coming by a constituency long suspicious of government, protective of privacy and assured of America's chosen-people status.
Now, in a political climate formed by frustration and anger, his father's following of alienated libertarians is joining forces with the tea-party activists who begin their national convention in Nashville on Thursday to propel him -- a subdued candidate with zero political experience -- to the cusp of the country's most exclusive chamber.
"The timing is the big thing," said Ron Paul, who admitted that he never expected things to come together so quickly for his son, a 47-year-old ophthalmologist. "He is surprised himself. I'm surprised. It might just be the mood of the country."
Rand Paul's Constitution-quoting, don't-tread-on-me platform echoes the one his father, also a doctor, rode to Internet-fueled fame in the 2008 presidential race. Like his father, Paul is the scourge of the Republican establishment, especially the home-grown Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is backing Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the primary.
But unlike his father, Rand Paul has had his anti-establishment roots nourished by legitimacy-bestowing endorsements from some national Republicans. Two years after his father was dismissed by the GOP as a distracting sideshow, Rand Paul's candidacy is being observed as a bellwether for the direction of the party. On Monday, Paul claimed the endorsement of Sarah Palin, the vice presidential nominee who starred at the 2008 convention that the GOP barred his father from addressing.
Ahead in recent polls, he has the backing of FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey and flat-tax champion Steve Forbes. His campaigning for his father during the 2008 race introduced him to a donor network that is on track to contribute well over $2 million.
"We started asking him to run for office, and he said he wasn't going to," said Ginny Saville, an activist with rainbow-dyed hair and a shirt covered with articles of the Constitution who drove from Lexington to the Pauls' father-son rally Saturday. "Now I think he feels like he has to do it."
A resident of Bowling Green, Rand Paul speaks with the unhurried drawl of Lake Jackson, Tex., where he was raised and where he knocked on doors for his father's first campaign for Congress, in 1974. In high school, he read his father's cherished Austrian economists and Ayn Rand, who, it turns out, is not his namesake. ("His real name is Randall," said his father. "He shortened it from Randy. He thought that was too childish, I guess.")
According to his mother, Carol, he was, like his father before him, a talented athlete (a defensive back in football) and more ambitious than his two brothers, whose names both begin with the letter R. During swim meets in high school, "he wanted his name on the board," she said. "He didn't want just R. Paul, because they are all R. Paul. He wanted Rand."
'My son is getting around'
On Saturday afternoon, about 500 Paul supporters navigated the icy parking lot outside Louisville's Kentucky Exposition Center. Inside, dozens of supporters handed $500 checks to gain special access to a small room. Behind the door, Rand and his father stood in the center of two circles, shaking hands, signing books and posing for pictures.