NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa -- Rand Paul’s potential bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is off to a promising start in the crucial state of Iowa, thanks in part to the fact that his father is Ron Paul.
The family name opens important doors to networks of potential volunteers and contributors. It draws people to take a close look at a man who’s only in his first Senate term. But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., ultimately has to make it on his own. And that won’t be easy.
He starts by being best known as the son of the libertarian icon, who retains a passionate following, particularly in Iowa, where he nearly won the 2012 Republican presidential caucus. This past weekend his followers were ecstatic to meet, greet and promote the heir.
Rand Paul is returning the love and checking all the right boxes. Mount a 13-hour filibuster against President Barack Obama’s nominee for CIA director? Check. Propose eliminating four Cabinet agencies and repealing the 2010 health care law? Check. And rip prospective 2016 rival Hillary Clinton as unfit for higher office? Absolutely, and that one got a huge cheer from 500 activists at a party dinner Friday night in Cedar Rapids.
But Paul, who says he won’t decide on a White House bid until next year at the earliest, is going to find boxes not easily filled. Leave them blank, and the momentum dissipates.
Paul is still a relative newcomer to public office. An ophthalmologist, Paul has long been active as the head of a tax watchdog group. His first run for office was his 2010 Senate bid.
“I could accept him, but I have to hear more of what he’s about,” said Codey Hoffman of Cedar Rapids, who’s unemployed and came to hear Paul on Friday.
And what about Ron? The son is taking care to gently demonstrate that he’s not mimicking his father, though Iowa Republican Chairman A.J. Spiker concedes, “His biggest challenge is defining himself. His father had big name ID.”
Ron Paul is unbending – some would say ornery – as he pushes to abolish the Federal Reserve, reinstate the gold standard and let states decide how to handle illegal drugs and other controversial lifestyle issues.
Views on whether Rand should be Ron 2.0 are mixed. “Rand Paul is slightly more pragmatic,” said Aaron Granquist, a North Liberty civil engineer, “but I’m starting to find out you have to have a little bit of that to have progress.”
Andrew Howe, a Cedar Rapids hotel banquet manager, was less sure about Rand Paul. He likes the father’s proposals for the Fed and the gold standard. He’s looking at the son, but “if he seems to be too establishment, it will be unfortunate.”
Rand Paul treads gingerly when discussing differences. Doing so, he said, would be akin to talking about family business. “That’s sort of like differences at the Thanksgiving table,” he said.
Pressed to show where he diverges, Rand Paul mentions drugs. “I haven’t come out in favor of legalizing drugs,” he said, “but I have come out in favor of saying don’t put kids in jail and lock them up and throw away the key.” Ron Paul thinks it’s up to parents, not the government, to stop children from using drugs.
Rand Paul offers two clear differences, crucial to any presidential bid: He has an easier way with people and he preaches inclusiveness.
“You feel it inside when you have to make your mortgage payment or for your business. Politicians don’t feel it at all,” because they think government money is not their own, Paul said Saturday at the Republicans’ North Liberty Community Center breakfast.
Garry Hamdorf , a retiree, was impressed. “It’s immoral what government does, but Sen. Paul is one of the most responsible legislators we have,” he said after talking with the senator.
Paul told others at the breakfast that Republicans must make a genuine effort to reach racial minorities and find common ground on incendiary issues such as immigration.
“It’s like your family. You don’t agree on every issue, but you break bread with them,” he explained. “I think the party shouldn’t have an inclusion/exclusion rule.”
His immigration position shows how he’s carefully treading the fine line between staunch conservatism and political accommodation. He’s urged compromise on overhauling the laws, hardly a popular point with strong conservatives, but he wants a tough path to citizenship.
At the moment, Iowa Republicans are watching Paul intently.
Republicans eagerly, desperately want a presidential winner, and the activists here are intrigued by those boxes he keeps checking, most notably that filibuster.
Paul launched the talkathon in March to delay the confirmation of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Paul was protesting the U.S. government’s policy on deadly drone strikes, possibly against Americans on American soil.
The filibuster has given Paul hero status in many Republican circles. Agree or disagree, Paul passed the first test of credibility, said Wade Chalstrom, a Cedar Rapids store director: “Doggone it, he was willing to go out there and say, ‘This is what I believe.’ ’’