The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rand Paul is the rabbit of the 2016 field. Here’s why it matters.

The news that Rand Paul will headline the Republican Party of Iowa's "Lincoln Dinner" in May is the latest sign that the Kentucky Senator is an all-but-announced candidate for the GOP's presidential race.

And, while Paul's interest in the race is no surprise -- he has, after all, been very open about wanting to run -- the aggressiveness (and earliness) with which he is pursuing that interest will almost certainly flush other would-be contenders out into the open sooner than they might like.

"With the Paul faction in complete control of the state party, they're doubling down hard by having him headline the highest profile dinner of the season," said Dave Kochel, who ran Mitt Romney's 2012 Iowa campaign. "It's definitely going to pressure other hopefuls to get a foothold in Iowa on an earlier timetable."

(A.J. Spiker, the current chairman of the Iowa Republican party, is a loyalist of Ron/Rand Paul.)

The "Rand as rabbit" narrative -- first one out of the gates and trying to open a big lead early on -- will force the hand of other candidates who a) don't want to cede conservatives in Iowa to Paul and b) don't want to give up on the idea of Iowa as their springboard to the top tier.

Witness the fact that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who finished first in the 2012 Iowa caucuses, is already slated to appear in the Hawkeye State on April 15. And, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is rumored to be a potential candidate -- particularly if fellow Badger Paul Ryan doesn't run -- will be in Iowa to headline a Polk County Republican dinner less than two weeks after Paul visits. (Yes, we know Walker is pooh-poohing the idea of running for president. But, we also know that no politician -- repeat: NOT ONE -- go to Iowa by accident.)

You could also make a case that people like South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, both of whom woud need strong social conservative support if they ran, also might need to get active -- especially in Iowa -- sooner than they had planned if they do want to pursue the presidency in 2016.

To be clear, while Rand Paul's aggressiveness will force a certain segment of 2016 aspirants to move up their timetables for courting activists/donors/raising their profiles, there is also a group less directly affected by the Kentucky Republican's early movement.

"It makes sense he's moving early to suck up Iowa oxygen, but it doesn't pose serious problems for the group of more likely nominees like [Jeb] Bush, [Marco] Rubio, [Bobby] Jindal and [Chris] Christie," said California-based Republican operative Rob Stutzman. "Their early contest will be who gets who on their finance teams." (We might quibble slightly on Jindal's inclusion on this list since he lacks the national profile of the other three.)

What Rand Paul is doing is staking a very early claim to Iowa, a state where -- thanks to his father's two presidential campaigns -- he has a very strong case to make. That willingness to sprint out of the 2016 gates with only a patina of "I can't believe this is starting so early" jibes with his overall approach to politics as typified by his 13-hour filibuster earlier this month.

And it means that he is a force that everyone running for president has to contend with -- in ways both large and small.