Sen. Rand Paul, the eye doctor turned politician, officially kicked off his long-awaited campaign for the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday in his home state of Kentucky, intent on waging a 50-state campaign that marries the small-government libertarianism championed by his father and the millennial generation with the traditional forces of the Republican Party.
“I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government,” Sen. Paul said Tuesday in his official campaign kickoff.
The scope of the challenge and the ambition of the candidate displayed themselves in full Monday when the first-term Kentucky senator released his campaign slogan — “Defeat the Washington machine. Unleash the American dream” — designed to position him as an anti-Washington crusader able to attract new voters to the traditional Republican coalition.
Campaign advisers also told The Washington Times that Mr. Paul planned to compete in every primary election and caucus in all 50 states, all five territories and the District of Columbia, a feat that only two GOP candidates achieved in 2012.
“It’s time for a new way. A new set of ideas. A new leader, one you can trust. One who works for you and, above all, it’s time for a new president,” Mr. Paul said in a video released by his campaign as a prelude to Tuesday’s announcement.
The Kentucky senator’s “all-chips-in” message was enhanced by his winning preliminary commitment from his home state GOP to convert Kentucky’s planned presidential preference primary next May into a presidential caucus earlier in the calendar.
SEE ALSO: Kentucky GOP considering changing from primary to caucus to help Rand Paul in 2016
The move will allow Mr. Paul to circumvent Kentucky’s election law requirement that a candidate’s name may appear on the ballot for only one office. He plans to seek nomination for a second Senate term in case his presidential aspirations go south on him.
The state party, not the state government, runs the caucus.
And the challenge for a politician bred in the shadows of his famous father, former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, also came into clearer focus. The elder Mr. Paul gained enormous popularity among millennials but struggled to gain mainstream support from traditional Republicans, who worried about some of his views on eliminating some government agencies and his reluctance to intervene militarily abroad.
Libertarians like the elder Mr. Paul have been distrusted on issues like gay marriage by social conservatives, who are key to the Iowa caucuses, as well as war hawks, who fear the anti-interventionist agenda — shared by populists like Pat Buchanan and many libertarians — would force the U.S. to shrink from its role as the world’s superpower.
The younger Mr. Paul has sought to blunt these expected attacks, openly discussing his Christian faith, traveling to Israel to show his support for an ally that both Christians and war hawks champion and penning an op-ed insisting he would not be an isolationist as president.
But like his father, the younger Paul clearly champions the smaller-government, anti-Washington sentiments that have made both Pauls popular among college students and young adults. Rand Paul won the last three straw polls at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where younger voters tend to dominate.
SEE ALSO: Rand Paul unveils presidential preview: It’s time for a new leader, ‘a new set of ideas’
He’ll get to test the popularity of his message of reining in Washington and unleashing American ingenuity on wider audiences this week during his five-state tour, which will take him from his home state to the first four presidential nomination contest states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Getting his name on the Republican presidential nomination ballot in all 50 U.S. states and territories would be no small feat. History suggests it’s likely to be most presidential nomination aspirants’ toughest row to hoe.
It takes hordes of volunteers, separate staffs and leaders for organizations in place on the ground in each of the states and territories, money to finance it all and the know-how to pull it off.
It also takes organization and a long head start to compete successfully in states that hold presidential preference caucuses instead of primary elections to award delegates to the Republican presidential nominating convention, to be held next summer in Cleveland.
Only two GOP presidential nomination candidates managed to have their names on the ballots (or to be fully prepared for the logistic challenge of caucuses) in every state and territory in 2012.
One was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who had more money available than anyone else in the field and a full-blown national campaign organization. The only other 50-state-plus competitor was Ron Paul, the senator’s father. The libertarian conservative had the advantage of twin followings — tens of thousands of millennials belonging to the ubiquitous Young Americans for Liberty chapters on college campuses, and older voters whose highest political priority was to get the government off their backs and out of their bedrooms.
Getting on the ballot became a headline issue only occasionally in the last presidential cycle.
Mr. Paul and Mr. Romney were the only candidates that appeared on the ballot in Virginia’s March 6 primary — one of the Super Tuesday contests that year. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and a favorite of many religious conservatives, never filed in the state.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did file, but his paperwork fell short of state requirements. Rick Perry, then the popular governor of Texas, lost a legal challenge, along with other GOP hopefuls, on Virginia’s requirements.
Being on all ballots and winning the most delegates isn’t automatic, as 2012 showed.
Mr. Romney wound up with 1,575 delegates, Mr. Santorum with 245, Mr. Paul with 177 and Mr. Gingrich with 138.
Mr. Paul’s campaign also hopes to expand his appeal as a Washington outsider willing to smash the conventions and practices of a hostage capital city to help reclaim control of government for everyday Americans and reduce the burden of excessive federal spending and debt.
But behind the scenes, his effort to qualify both for Senate re-election and the presidential nominating in Kentucky could pose challenges.
On the eve of his announcement, The Times confirmed Mr. Paul has won an important victory inside the Kentucky Republican Party that could allow him to run for both offices next year.
State GOP Chairman Steve Robertson has appointed a special committee to explore converting Kentucky’s presidential preference primary, scheduled for next May, to a caucus to be held earlier in the year.
The special committee “will bring back a workable plan to present to the full central state committee to determine the feasibility of going ahead with a caucus, which will mean a lot of work for everyone involved,” said Second District Chairman Scott Lasley, who is running the effort.
Mr. Paul and his chief strategist, Doug Stafford, persuaded the state GOP executive committee to act on the idea with what some Republicans call the “approval” and others call the “acquiescence” of Kentucky’s most powerful Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The state central committee of more than 300 members must vote to approve the plan.
Mr. Paul says he will help raise the money for the state GOP to shoulder the burden. The move would benefit Mr. Paul on numerous fronts. If Mr. Paul can get all of his home state’s 45 delegates to the Republican presidential nominating convention in Cleveland next summer in his column early in the nomination contest — say, the first few weeks in March — he will look all the better to potential donors and bandwagon voters in subsequent primaries.
It also would allow Mr. Paul to hedge his election bets, running both for president and re-election to the Senate, without having to go to court to challenge the current legal requirements.
Kentucky’s election rules call for a state government-financed presidential primary every four years. The regulations also stipulate that if you want to appear on the ballot for the U.S. Senate nomination — as Mr. Paul does so that he might have a second six-year Senate term — you can’t have your name on the ballot for a second office, such as for a presidential primary.