Rand Paul in race to be Republican presidential candidate

Kentucky senator’s libertarian streak may make him both an outlier and a target for rivals

US Sen Rand Paul declared himself a candidate for the Republican nomination for president on Tuesday, aiming to upset the political order in Washington and disprove those in his own party who doubt that a fiercely libertarian conservative can be a serious contender.

Mr Paul’s brand of politics could make him both an outlier and a target among his rivals. In a primary contest of candidates debating which of them is the most doctrinaire conservative, Mr Paul is likely to be the only one arguing for reducing federal drug penalties, clamping down on the nation’s intelligence agencies and taking a more deliberative approach to military intervention.

On social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, however, he does not stray from the Republican Party line. Mr Paul (52), a Kentucky senatore, will become the second Republican to enter the 2016 campaign, following his colleague in the Senate, Ted Cruz of Texas. It will not remain a small field for long.

Packed field


Florida senator Marco Rubio is expected to announce his candidacy next week. Also waiting in the wings are Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, who are expected to declare soon, rounding out what Republicans say is perhaps their most competitive and robust slate of candidates since 1980, when Ronald Reagan faced competition from party heavyweights like George Bush and Howard Baker.

While Mr Paul's political resume may be short - he entered politics with the emergence of the Tea Party movement, winning election to the Senate in 2010, in his first run for office - he has built over the past year and a half what Republican strategists say are some of the most extensive political operations in the states that will vote first in the party's nominating process: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Much of the backbone for that political operation will come from the voters and volunteers who gave his father, former Texas representative Ron Paul, a base of energetic support in his own unsuccessful bids for the presidency in 2008 and 2012.

Varied constituencies

But Rand Paul has made it clear in his appeals over the past two years to constituencies as varied as students at black colleges, tech executives, movement libertarians and establishment Republicans that his intention is to seek out a far wider path to the nomination than his father did.

Mr Paul's planned rollout tour this week illustrates the unusual ideological tilt of his campaign. From Kentucky, his adopted home state - where he has practiced ophthalmology in Bowling Green since 1993 - he will go Wednesday to New Hampshire for a town-hall meeting in the small town of Milford, a setting that his aides chose to highlight his belief in the virtues of local government.

The next day he will speak near Charleston, South Carolina, with the aircraft carrier Yorktown as his backdrop. That event will focus on the issue that most sets Mr Paul apart from his Republican rivals: his belief that the United States should be more cautious and restrained in its military engagements overseas.

It is a position he will have largely to himself when he squares off against other Republicans, but one that makes him a target of conservatives who say he would weaken the military and undermine national security. Mr Paul plans to spend Friday at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, a liberal pocket of the state. Among the Republican contenders, Mr Paul will need to put together the most disparate coalition to win the nomination. Some voters he hopes to win over are not even Republicans, like college students who could be drawn to his views on reining in domestic surveillance, and blacks who he hopes will welcome his position on easing drug-sentencing laws.

He also counts on energising the libertarian faithful who supported his father in 2008 and 2012, and the Tea Party adherents who share Mr Paul’s fiscally conservative belief in shrinking the size of government.

He would need to carry one of the first four states in the nominating process next year to silence critics who say he is little more than a repackaged version of his father, with more moderate-sounding talking points. The ultimate test for Mr Paul, though, will be whether the very different groups he is courting take his overtures as sincere, or instead come to view him as just another politician telling them what he thinks they want to hear.

New York Times