LOUISVILLE—Kentucky Senator Rand Paul formally began his presidential campaign on Tuesday, saying at a rally that “the Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped.”
“Too often, when Republicans have won, we’ve squandered our victory by becoming part of the Washington machine,” he told supporters at Galt House, a historic hotel overlooking the Ohio River, as he became the second Republican and second freshman senator to formally join the 2016 presidential race. “That’s not who I am.”
After his announcement, Paul planned to sit for an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, participate in a Facebook town hall-style question-and-answer session, then board a plane for the first primary state of New Hampshire. He’ll stump all across the rest of the early primary and caucus states—South Carolina, Iowa, and Nevada—to highlight the national libertarian network he and his father, former Texas Representative Ron Paul, helped build.
Paul, a 52-year-old ophthalmologist who won his Senate seat in his first bid for elective office, told supporters he had “a vision for American where everyone who wants to work will have a job,” and called for congressional term limits, lower taxes on countries bringing profits back to the U.S., improved school choice, a balanced budget, the slashing of foreign aid to hostile countries, and the curbing of personal privacy invasions in the name of national security.
He also called for congressional approval of any nuclear agreement that world powers reach with Iran. “I will oppose any deal that does not end Iran’s nuclear ambitions and have strong verification measures,” he said, “and I will insist that the final version be brought before Congress.”
“Today I announce with God’s help, with the help of liberty lovers everywhere, that I am putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America,” he said.
In his 2010 Senate bid, Paul united the nascent Tea Party movement to win a primary and general election by bigger-than-expected margins. Within weeks of taking his oath of office, Paul had proposed a budget that slashed spending back to 2008 levels, with $500 billion of cuts over one fiscal year. Paul went on to oppose the Republican budget crafted by Representative Paul Ryan, the Budget Control Act that ended a standoff over the debt limit, and every vote to raise that limit.
Spending hawk principles defined Paul’s first two years in office. Having campaigned for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, he refused to vote for anything that didn’t eliminate the deficit. “It is absolutely necessary, in order to get our nation's fiscal house in order, that we amend the Constitution to reflect the urgency of our financial crisis,” Paul told Kentucky legislators in 2011.
Paul’s political style has combined the high-minded with the relatable. After the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Paul told the Republican National Convention that conservatives had been right. “I think if James Madison, himself—the father of the Constitution—were here today he would agree with me,” said Paul. “The whole damn thing is still unconstitutional!”
In two books—a third is set to arrive in May—Paul merged economic facts with anecdotes from campaigns and the stories of people wrestling with government bureaucrats. Yet after the 2012 presidential election, Paul retooled his approach and focus in order to find common ground with traditionally Democratic voters in what he called a “leave-us-the-hell-alone coalition.”
He reached out to those voters everywhere from the floor of the Senate to college campuses to Ferguson, Missouri. In early 2013, he filibustered the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan and demanded that the White House clarify its legal rationale for killing American citizens if they were tied to terrorism. Weeks later, he gave a speech at historically black Howard University that kicked off a series of question-and-answer sessions with African Americans.
Paul's outreach to traditionally liberal voters continued through 2014. In the wake of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about domestic mass surveillance, Paul filed a civil suit against the Obama administration and gave speeches on college campuses about the Fourth Amendment. When the Islamic State became a credible threat to American bases in Iraq, Paul proposed a limited authorization of military force that would have required yearly approval from Congress to continue fighting in the Middle East.
“I gave the same speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference that I gave at Berkeley,” Paul told conservative pastors in Washington last month. “I didn't change a word, and I got a standing ovation at both. But I also didn't go to Berkeley and talk about the balanced-budget amendment. And, frankly, I didn't talk about marriage about Berkeley, either. But I didn't give up believing in those things.”
Paul's speeches and media coverage have helped him break out of the Republican field. In very early trial heats of the presidential race, Paul regularly gets closer to Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, than his so-called establishment rivals. In a March poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, Paul tied Clinton in Pennsylvania, a state no Democratic candidate for president has lost since 1988.
“Right now I'm the only one that beats Hillary Clinton in certain purple states,” Paul told Fox News host Megyn Kelly in March. “I'm the only one that also scores above all the other Republicans in whether or not I can beat her.”
Chip Englander, who helped steer Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner's successful 2014 campaign, will be Paul's campaign manager. In a Monday conversation, Englander said the size and reach of the pro-Paul “liberty movement” would give the coming campaign a head start in on-the-ground organizing. After Ron Paul's 2008 campaign for president, his state networks were transformed into the Campaign for Liberty, and his youth networks became Young Americans for Liberty. While Rauner spent months opening campaign offices, often in hostile turf for Republicans, Paul would start with an activist base in all 50 states.
The elder Paul joined his son at Tuesday's rally, where he and his wife were acknowledged and applauded near the top of their son's speech. But he is not expected to be a surrogate for the campaign. One of the people filling that role will be Kelley Paul, 51, a Kentucky native who has raised three sons with her husband in their adopted hometown of Bowling Green. In just one week, Kelley will release a book of inspiration and advice called True and Constant Friends, with a subsequent tour introducing her to readers (and voters) as a potential first lady. Six weeks later, her husband will release a third book that says even more about his evolved approach to campaigning: Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America.