Rand Paul Popular, but Can He Sway Donors?

Image: Rand Paul Popular, but Can He Sway Donors?

Wednesday, 12 Mar 2014 10:38 AM

By Joe Battaglia

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He's won over early pollsters, but questions remain about Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's  ability to sway dollars out of the Wall Street movers and shakers likely to bankroll Republican presidential candidates in 2016.

"People like him. He speaks his mind in ways other politicians do not," one financier, who was a major backer of Mitt Romney, told The Daily Beast. "But the question is, does he have the legs to go the distance?"

Paul, a former Bowling Green ophthalmologist, raised more than a million dollars for his Senate campaign fund in the last quarter of 2013, leaving him with $1.7 million in a federal account that could be transferred over for a presidential run. According to Politico, his political action committee, RAND PAC, also has $500,000 on hand.

But as the presidential campaign begins to get going two years out, none of the top contenders has yet to lay the groundwork for a national fundraising network necessary to stay competitive in a long primary season.

At the moment, Paul is the leading contender on that list. For the second year in a row, he topped the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, an annual temperature-taking of the Republican party. The tea party darling garnered 31 percent of the vote, crushing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who came in second with 11 percent.

CPAC has proven to be a friendly venue for Paul and was always kind to his father, former Texas congressman Ron Paul, a three-time presidential candidate who won the CPAC straw poll in 2010 and 2011.

When he ran, Ron Paul raised more than $50 million, mostly from a grass-roots army of voters who believed in his Libertarian views. The good news for Rand Paul is that type of money will likely be available to him as well.

"You take the $50 million his dad raised, and what do they need, another $25 million?" one person close to the senator told The Daily Beast. "He gets that, he is very real and very substantial."

But family ties can cut both ways.

Ron Paul was unable to sway enough support to overtake Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination in 2012. What remains to be seen is whether Rand Paul will be able to gain the support of that influential Republican core — many of whom won't soon forget crossing a barricade of Paul picketers to get to the VIP suite at the last GOP convention — while pivoting away from his father's politics just enough, like George W. Bush did in his successful run to the White House.

"I don't think the people who were for Romney, McCain, and Bush will be for him," one donor to all three candidates told The Daily Beast.

Where Paul is likely to gain support is from Silicon Valley, where his Libertarian-leaning politics are more likely to take root. That is why he is planning a trip there next week to meet with the likes of Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen, co-creator of Mosaic, the first widely used web browser.

"They have billions and billions of dollars sitting on the sidelines, waiting to be invested in the right project, and people like that are very excited about Rand," one Paul supporter told The Daily Beast.

Meanwhile, Manhattan's financial elite remains skeptical about what exactly they would be getting in Paul as a presidential candidate. Is he the man who gives stump-style speeches describing Barack Obama as a weak president and ripping his healthcare policy as a killer of jobs?

Or is he the seemingly confused man who rips the "predatory" behavior of former President Bill Clinton while leaving people questioning his fundamental knowledge of national security?

"With Chris Christie, they know what they are getting," one person who has met privately with Paul, told The Daily Beast. "With Rand, are you getting the articulate spokesman for the issues, or the guy who goes after Bill Clinton when he should be attacking Hillary?"

Rather than jump on the Paul bandwagon early, the donor class is likely to wait to see how things play out over the coming months. In New York, there remains a definite desire for Christie, the New Jersey governor, to regain his footing after the controversy surrounding the commuter lane closures to the George Washington Bridge, or for other known quantities like Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush to jump into the race.

"Jeb is like an old pair of shoes — you know exactly what they are going to feel like when you put them on," one fundraising veteran told The Daily Beast. "In many ways, he is the most logical."


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