- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rising in the polls as a 2016 White House contender, Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, is getting a taste of the hard-knocks politics that can accompany an early front-runner.

Mr. Paul, a first-term senator who has captured the fascination of young voters, libertarians and traditional conservatives alike, has suffered some organizational and strategical setbacks even as he shot to the top in a CNN presidential preference poll and was the runaway winner of the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll this month.

In Kentucky, though, the Democrat-led House is refusing to go along with the Republican-controlled state Senate’s plan to make it legal for Mr. Paul to seek the presidency at the same time he is running for re-election.

SEE ALSO: Bye-bye Iowa straw poll? Gov. Branstad mulls replacing presidential test with ‘festivals’

In Iowa, Gov. Terry E. Branstad has wrested control of the state GOP from one of Mr. Paul’s loyalists after several tense months, putting a twist on the political landscape of the state that hosts the first presidential primary contest.

Mr. Branstad also is examining whether to end the famed Iowa Straw Poll planned in the college town of Ames for 2015 in which Mr. Paul was expected to fare well after his father, Ron, finished a strong second in 2011. The Iowa governor is thinking instead of substituting candidate-voter “festivals” in each of Iowa’s four congressional districts, The Washington Times has learned.

To poll or not to poll

The straw poll has traditionally been an important springboard for non-establishment candidates such as evangelist Pat Robertson, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Mr. Paul’s father, who all finished first or second.

The potential 2016 candidates whose strength emanates from outside Washington’s power structure — Mr. Paul, and Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas — likewise would benefit in fundraising and national exposure from a good showing in the Iowa Straw Poll next year — if it is held.

Mr. Branstad has been saying he believes the straw poll has outlived its usefulness, in part because it allows candidates willing to buy admission tickets and pay for buses to secure favorable votes that don’t necessarily reflect the state’s leanings.

The governor’s idea is getting a cool reception in some corners, where activists fear it could shift power back to big-money establishment candidates such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Both men are thought to lack large, ready-made followings in Iowa predisposed to make the long slog to Ames to participate in the straw polling. But critics fear a Christie or a Bush will be able to recruit voters more easily to make short trips to the regional candidates’ festivals.

“Doing away with the Iowa Straw Poll is a point of huge contention,” said Tamara Scott, a Republican National Committee member who also sits on the Iowa GOP central committee.

Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Steve King, both veteran conservatives, “are not in line with Branstad here,” Mrs. Scott said. “And folks are unsure if the Branstad move is coming from the Karl Rove faction of our party or is more of an RNC move, since both the Rove faction and the national party lack control of the process.

“But the purpose is to move away from the advantage where smaller-budgeted, more-conservative candidates can excel,” she said.

Paul ally steps down

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