Running for Senate, Rand Paul lights a fire under Kentucky GOP

By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2010; C01

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.

Ron Paul's cluster had more gravitational pull. Wearing a roomy charcoal suit and comfortable black shoes, Paul led a spirited discussion of the pricing index. People with business cards that said "T.E.A. Party Patriots" and "ConservativeEdge Political Commentator" waited impatiently to shake his hand. Economists and self-proclaimed entrepreneurs offered him copies of his book "End the Fed" to sign.

A few feet away, Rand Paul stood in the middle of his own circle, wearing a lighter gray suit with a checkered pattern, and comfortable black shoes. Sharon Weaver, 63, drifted from the father to the son and asked Rand to sign Ron Paul's book "The Revolution: A Manifesto" below his father's signature.

Rand, momentarily alone, leaned against the wall and sipped from a water bottle. His mother accepted a Bible, heavily annotated in blue pen, from a man who spoke zealously about her husband's message ("A lot of times he needs different scripture," she said obligingly). When she saw her son begin to shake more hands, she observed, "My son is getting around."

By 4 p.m., in an adjacent hall, Dawn Cloyd, 40, had taken a front-row seat. Wrapped in a fur coat, she explained that she had set up a meeting months ago between Republican power brokers loyal to McConnell and Paul supporters. The McConnell operatives had made it clear to her that "we need a candidate whose last name is not Paul," she recalled.

A few feet in front of her, Frank Harris, 48, walked around, distributing trillion-dollar bills with Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's face printed on them. When Ron Paul entered the room, Harris extracted one of several 100-ounce bars of silver -- each actually worth $1,600 -- from a canvas tote bag and asked the congressman to sign it.

The Pauls milled about before the program began, and Aimee Allen, a recording artist best known in the movement for singing the Ron Paul anthem at the 2008 shadow convention in Minneapolis, collected herself for a debut performance of the Rand Paul song.

"It's the same as the Ron Paul song," she confided.

Ron and Carol and Rand and his wife, Kelley, 46, sat in the front row below the stage and bowed their heads as pastor Jerry Stephenson thanked Jesus Christ for "brother Rand Paul" and asked "Father God" to "help us come back and start a revolution." Soon after, Allen took the stage and invited up Rand's two youngest children. The boys, 10 and 13, grabbed acoustic guitars from cases stuck with "I'm a Rand Fan" stickers and played along with Allen's ska-infused anthem ("Rand Paul! To save our constitutional rights. Rand Paul! To start a revolution").

The Paul wives, Kelley in pink and Carol in purple, sang along as Ron and Rand looked on with their hands folded in front of them. In the back of the room, Logan Gatti, 20, a tracker for one of Kentucky's Democratic candidates, sat in a corduroy blazer, recording it all on a camcorder.

With the crowd warmed up, Ron Paul led his son to center stage. His remarks, at 23 minutes long, were light on Rand-boosting. Instead, he talked about an "intellectual revolution," basked in chants of "End the Fed" and called the income tax "the very worst." Rand sat behind him with his left leg crossed over his right and his arm draped over an empty chair as he looked blankly out at the rapt crowd.

When it was his turn, he spoke admiringly of his father and then positioned himself as the leader the movement had been waiting for.

"I have a message from the tea party that is loud and clear and doesn't mince words," he said. "We have come to take our government back."

Off message

Rand Paul's stump speech can be a downer. Although he is not above offering some anti-Obama red meat -- "Sarah Palin said he's been palling around with terrorists; now he's palling around with the world's communists" -- his remarks drift into dark idiosyncrasy: He criticizes population-control policies by saying governments fear "too many breathers," as in humans. He reminds supporters that the "Bridge to Nowhere" was built by earmarks from Republican senators in Palin's own state and mourns a system so broken that "I'm not sure you can elect enough good people to fix it -- I mean, I'm really concerned about it."

That distinctly downbeat message runs counter to the one McConnell's GOP tries to project. "He told me he doesn't want to be involved in this process," Rand Paul said of McConnell. Asked if he believed that, Rand laughed. "Is this when I'm supposed to say 'No comment?' " he said.

McConnell's candidate, Grayson, has been characterizing Paul's positions in favor of closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and scaling back federal anti-drug efforts as outside the Republican mainstream. He has called into question the company Paul keeps.

Rand Paul's former spokesman, Christopher Hightower, left the campaign after liberal blogs discovered racist language on his MySpace page, an incident that only added to the critique that Paul's followers are prone to conspiracy theory and paranoid extremism.

"He was asked to resign," Paul said of Hightower, insisting he had zero tolerance for "associations with anything unsavory." But, he added, "to tell you the truth, it's a little unfair to even the guy though." Paul said the offending passages were written by someone else and buried in a "subspace on MySpace" and that in 100 hours of car time together he never heard Hightower use "any racist terminology."

"It'll get tough," Ron Paul said of his son's primary. "They still haven't spent their money. But they have to be careful. It used to be that all you'd have to do is bring in a couple million dollars from the senatorial committee and it was automatic, but now all you have to do is point it out: 'Why is Washington here telling the people of Kentucky what to do?' "

Paul, who has an unpolished, down-to-earth manner, said he's not bothered by what he calls the Grayson "distortions" because he'll have the money to answer them. Paul's Web site reports contributions of $1.8 million ("Toward freedom!"). On Wednesday, he aired his first TV commercial, in which he articulates his recalibrated, more Republican-friendly Guantanamo position ("Terrorists captured on the battlefield should be tried in military court and not brought to the U.S.") and stands imposingly in his eye-doctor scrubs. Paul said he expects to have $2.5 million by the end of the primary to air plenty of ads. "We're letting our donors rest up, and then we'll ask for another money bomb."

Paul's main problem is bureaucratic: Only voters who registered Republican by Dec. 31 of last year can participate in the May vote. That doesn't leave much time for this first-time candidate, who still spends much of the week doing Lasik surgery, to ingratiate himself with Kentucky conservatives.

When a woman came up to Paul on Saturday, expressing her support, he urgently asked, "You vote here?"

Kentucky ties

On Sunday at 8 a.m., the Paul family met up with Adam Stone, a 25-year-old who, in a raffle contest the day before, had won an exclusive breakfast with Rand at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near the airport. (He chose the breakfast over a Paul-signed Constitution and a Henry Golden Boy rifle.)

"Y'all, I'm just going to have a classic breakfast," said Kelley Paul as she sat down next to her husband, who wore a tan argyle sweater vest and hiking boots. Rand's father sat next to him and dominated the conversation.

"Was there one particular policy that grabbed you?" he asked the raffle winner.

Stone traced his political awakening back to college. "I wasn't a right-wing extremist at that point," he said.

As Carol headed the kids' and in-laws' table, the men talked monetary policy. Ron called the gross domestic product a "fictitious figure," and Rand expressed amazement that the Federal Reserve is "proud of making a profit!" Rand was getting warmed up.

Talk turned to the campaign, and Rand said he was glad to have a powerful weapon against charges that he's a Texas-born carpetbagger: his wife's pedigree. "My family was one of the original surveyors of Kentucky," said Paul's wife, who said that her ancestors, the Ashbys, hosted George Washington and "fought the Indians with Daniel Boone."

Rand later insisted that "if we had a president who was serious about it, we could stop illegal immigration in three months. We have wireless technologies, underground wires."

Kelley then offered that her mother's mother had come to America from Ireland and received a rude welcoming.

"They were called Irish dogs!" she protested.

"Aaawww," Rand said, playfully rubbing her back.

With breakfast finished, the congressman and his wife rose to catch their plane. Stone posed for pictures between Ron and Rand. And the father and son bid each other farewell, for now. Carol Paul squeezed her son in a quick hug.

"Did everything go like you wanted?" she asked.

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