Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) may only be in the second half of his first term as senator, but he has set his eyes on the biggest prize in all of American politics. Paul visited Iowa on Friday, speaking at the Iowa Republican Party's Lincoln Dinner. He plans to visit New Hampshire and South Carolina in the coming weeks.
These state are not Paul's native Kentucky but they have one thing in common. They are the first three states that will participate in the selection of the Republican presidential candidate for 2016. Paul is among the most visible potential candidates aiming for the office and has started laying the groundwork for a 2016 run for president.
Besides making speeches in early primary states to increase his visibility among primary voters, other actions from the Paul camp are clear signals that he is seriously considering the run. Earlier in May, Doug Stafford, Paul’s chief strategist, left Paul's Senate office to run Paul's national political operation. Stafford will focus on managing Paul's organization in primary states, Paul's personal calendar, and press and public communications.
Paul's current problem in approaching the presidential primary is the size of his campaign staff. Although Paul runs a lean staff generally, his current staff is practically minuscule compared to other potential 2016 contenders such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Governor Bobby Jindal (R-La.). An excellent example is that Paul's political action committee, RAND PAC, has only just now hired a spokesperson.
While the lean staff approach has served Paul well thus far, a multi-state primary will require more then the political team that he has. He will require multiple spokespeople for each state, as it would be impossible for him to physically be at all the events during a contested primary. He will need state-level strategists to inform him of the campaigning quirks and strategies for the primary states. He will need lawyers well-versed in campaign and election law. In short Paul needs build a national campaign apparatus from the group up designed to make him more then just a senator from Kentucky. He needs to create the image of a potential president.
Ironically one of his biggest strengths, the Paul family name and the devoted fanbase that it brings may be one of his biggest obstacles in transitioning to the mainstream. Rand Paul must work to convince major fundraisers and veteran campaign personnel that unlike the campaigns of his father Ron Paul, he is more then just an issues candidate with a small base and has a shot of taking the entire prize for himself. Ron Paul never won any of the early states in his two runs for president, placing third in the 2012 Iowa caucuses and fifth in 2008.
It is this broadening of his support that will prove the crucial test. The early state visits are Paul testing out which constituencies he can add to his devoted but small base. Paul met with ten evangelical pastors on Friday and is expected to meet with more next month. Evangelicals are a widely influential group in Iowa Republican political circles, widely credited with delivering the Iowa Republican caucus to Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012.
Still, the fact that there is quite a bit of buzz around a 2016 Paul campaign along with his recent political visits shows that he is taking the prospect very seriously. It remains to be seen if he can lay the proper groundwork to transfer into a truly national figure. But he has at least taken the first step.