Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul entered the 2016 presidential race Tuesday with a contrarian message that could galvanize voters who have become disenchanted with the Republican mainstream and lead to victory, political strategists told Newsmax.
"Rand Paul is the dark-horse candidate that reminds me most of Ronald Reagan in 1980," said GOP pollster Matt Towery, who worked on the former president's campaign. "He is outside the party establishment — and yet, he starts out in sort of a star quality because he has attracted so many of his father's followers in this campaign.
"That particular group, whether the GOP likes it or not, could make the difference in terms of turnout in the November 2016 race," Towery added. "He has something to offer that I don't see in a lot of other GOP candidates."
Bruce Haynes, a Republican who founded the bipartisan strategy firm Purple Strategies, said Paul "has the potential to be the most spectacular and disruptive candidate in the Republican field.
"He does not come from the right in the sense of the traditional social conservative or from the center of the traditional establishment conservative," Haynes said. "He comes from a different place … that is a Libertarian and youth-driven movement.
"He is casting himself as the leader of a cause and not as a candidate running a campaign," Haynes said. "In politics, well-run causes beat campaigns."
Paul, 52, announced his candidacy
in Louisville with a pledge to scrap "the Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms" and telling supporters that "we've come to take our country back."
He is the second major Republican to formally declare his presidential campaign. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz announced his intentions at Liberty University in Virginia on March 23. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is expected to disclose his plans next week.
The three are first-term senators who all entered Congress in the tea party wave of 2010.
"It's exciting to see another energetic, visionary conservative enter the contest for the 2016 nomination," said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots. "Sen. Paul has been at the forefront of the liberty movement, and he will do a lot to shape the debate as the GOP field expands."
As many as 20 Republicans could be vying for the nomination before the Iowa caucuses in February.
Paul is an ophthalmologist and the son of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who ran for president three times as a Republican and a Libertarian.
Ron Paul, 79, who retired from Congress in 2012, was in the audience during his son's announcement at the Galt House Hotel but did not speak.
"I worry that the opportunity and hope are slipping away for our sons and daughters," Rand Paul told supporters in a 26-minute speech. "As I watch our once-great economy collapse under mounting spending and debt, I think, 'What kind of America will our grandchildren see?'
"It seems to me that both parties and the entire political system are to blame," Paul said.
He attacked not only the Obama administration but his fellow Republicans, signaling his intentions to run a campaign that attacks both parties. He also pledged to have an administration restrained only by the Constitution and beholden no more to special interests.
"If we nominate a candidate who is simply Democrat Lite, what's the point?" Paul said in a jab at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a mainstream Republican who is also considering a presidential bid.
He also slammed Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who is the probable Democratic front-runner for the nomination, in a fund-raising email sent Tuesday afternoon.
"We look around and see the same old, tired career politicians from yesteryear running," he said. "Hillary Clinton? We know how that movie ends: trillions more in debt, more taxes, and more Benghazis.
"Radical Islam thrived and grew while Hillary was on the top floor of the state department," Paul said. "Now she wants a promotion?"
In his announcement, Paul vowed to end
the National Security Agency's controversial electronic surveillance programs "on day one" after assuming the White House.
"I say the phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of their damn business," he said of government officials.
Paul's candidacy comes as the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America, a 501(c)(4) group led by longtime Republican strategist Rick Reed, unleashed at $1 million ad campaign attacking Paul's previous positions on Iran and other national security issues.
Besides Iowa, the spots will run in the early-voting states of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The charge Paul with "siding with Obama" on the Tehran negotiations.
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But Paul said he opposed President Barack Obama's nuclear framework with Iran and called for a congressional view of a final deal.
"I believe in applying Ronald Reagan’s approach to foreign policy to the Iran issue. Successful negotiations with untrustworthy adversaries are only achieved from a position of strength."
Along with ending the NSA program, Paul has advocated for a smaller U.S. military presence overseas, though in March he called for an increase in defense spending. He also has opposed the Obama administration's use of military drones.
Those earlier positions, however, could prove tough for Paul to shake during the campaign, Democratic pollster Doug Schoen said.
"The problem Rand Paul has is what he has said in the past, particularly in 2008 about the role of limited government and a limited foreign policy, is very much at variance with what he said today," Schoen told Gretchen Carlson on Fox News.
"What Rand Paul needs to do is to articulate, as he began to do today, a vision for why he would be different, why he would not be business as usual and why his commitment to limited government should subsume the tea party wing and a massive slice of the centrist conservatives," he added. "If he can do that, he can be very serious."
Haynes told Newsmax that these flip-flops were part of Paul's "brand."
"He accepts some risks in doing that — but he invites opportunity in the ability to bring new voters, new voices, and new energy into his campaign," he said. "In a way, he is a bit of a contradiction, but that's what makes him so interesting."
Towery acknowledged that Paul "certainly is an extreme when it comes to foreign policy decisions" among both Republicans and Democrats.
"But when you poll the core Republican electorate, they are not interested in being involved with these countries abroad other than to make sure that those countries don't influence the U.S.
"If Paul keeps that position, he's going to hit a nerve with some voters, particularly in these key early primaries."
Perhaps Paul's greatest asset is that he "has brings a polish to his father's positions that his father wasn't able to bring," Towery said.
"He's been able to take his father's libertarian-conservative Republican positions and make them palatable to his fellow Republicans in the Senate Conference, which is highly unusual."
That also sets Paul apart from Cruz within the GOP, he said.
"You have two guys who are coming at this as outsiders — one who's an outsider who can't get along, even behind the scenes; another who is slightly more polished. He reminds me of the type who can really be a break-out candidate and do much better than people expect."
The biggest challenge for Paul, however, will be getting his supporters to the polls in November 2016, Towery told Newsmax.
"Although they are smaller in numbers, they are far more motivated to turn out — and that is the key to Rand Paul.
"It's not a question of Rand Paul being acceptable to all Republican voters," he added.
"The question is will Rand Paul be able to increase the numbers, can he hold on to them — and can he get them to turn out?
"If he does, he's going to be a very formidable candidate," Towery said. "I think he's being grossly underestimated."
The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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