Growing up in Lake Jackson, Rand Paul had an early exposure to politics as the son of a popular obstetrician who would ultimately serve more than two decades in Congress and make three runs for the presidency.
Of his five children, his father said years later, it was Rand — he was still called “Randy” back then — who seemed most likely to be destined for politics.
Now, the middle son of former Republican congressman Ron Paul is the one seeking the presidency, and his Lone Star ties could be a valuable asset as he begins to build a campaign organization in Texas and gear up for a grueling nomination battle that could possibly draw more than a dozen contenders.
“I think my Texas roots will very much be an advantage,” the Kentucky senator said in a phone interview Friday. “I think we’ll do quite well in Texas.”
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He can count on ready support from his close-knit family — he has described his father as “my hero” — and is poised to inherit at least some of the residual base of support that Ron Paul planted in Texas and elsewhere during his insurgent libertarian-style races for the presidency, the latest in 2012.
Rand Paul’s parents, Ron and Carol Paul, still live in Lake Jackson, about 50 miles south of Houston near the Gulf Coast. A younger brother, Robert, is a family doctor in Benbrook, just southwest of Fort Worth, who says he stands “100 percent” behind Paul’s candidacy. Two other siblings live in Lake Jackson and another lives nearby in Friendswood. Then there’s the younger generation – his parents’ 19 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“So when you get them all together,” Rand Paul said, “we’re a pretty potent force.”
Nevertheless, while the former Texan and one-time Baylor University student has an edge that non-Texas candidates don’t have, he still faces immense challenges in a state dominated by two formidable favorite sons – Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry.
Cruz was the first major candidate to officially jump into the race for the 2016 Republican nomination, and Perry is expected to announce his decision in May or June, amid widespread speculation that he will make a second run for the presidency after a failed bid in 2012.
Also high in the mix is Jeb Bush, the Midland-born former Florida governor who has powerful Texas ties as a member of the Bush clan and is also moving toward a bid for the presidency. He would undoubtedly draw influential backing from two men who previously held the office – his father, George H.W. Bush, who lives in Houston, and his brother George W. Bush, who lives in Dallas. His son, George P. Bush, is state land commissioner.
One emerging battleground in Texas centers on the Tea Party vote. Paul rode a wave of Tea Party support to win the 2010 Senate race in Kentucky and later delivered the official Tea Party response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2013. But Cruz, who soared to victory with Tea Party support in the 2012 Texas Senate race, has dominated that constituency in Texas.
Cruz has consistently led in Texas political polls, usually by a comfortable margin and largely because of support from grassroots and Tea Party activists who form the base Republican primary vote.
The University of Texas-Texas Tribune Poll shows that Paul’s support in Texas has slipped over the past year, from 9 percent in June 2014 to 4 percent in February, although there hasn’t been a survey since Paul officially announced his candidacy. Jim Henson, director of the University of Texas Politics Project, which conducts the poll, says Paul’s best shot in Texas is “hoping Ted Cruz gets out of the race.”
‘Leave me alone’
Paul, however, says he expects to be “very competitive” in the Lone Star State by appealing to Texans’ “rugged independence” and their pride in “doing things without Washington getting in the way.”
“I think the spirit of Texas is definitely part of the coalition that we try to attract, which we call the ‘Leave Me Alone Coalition,’” Paul said.
For the first time in years, Texas is in line to play an influential role in choosing the Republican nominee through an earlier-than-usual primary on March 1, 2016, after the opening contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. The bulk of the state’s 155 delegates – the second-biggest batch after California – will allocated during the primary, and the remaining 38 will be decided at the Republican State Convention in May 2016.
Ron Paul, now 79, was still in Congress and watched proudly from the back of the Senate chamber when Rand Paul was sworn in as Kentucky’s junior senator in January 2011.
Rand Paul was considered a potential presidential contender from the start of his Senate career and announced his candidacy April 7 before a crowd of supporters in Louisville, Ky., that included his father.
Paul’s strategy rests on doing well enough in the early states to be in the top tier of Republican candidates coming into Texas. A central message, he said, will be to convince Republicans voters both in Texas and elsewhere that he can win not only in heavily Republican states but also in “purple” swing states by expanding the “base of the party” with independents and minorities.
Paul, who like Cruz is considered an independent-minded maverick, has often been openly critical of his own party and is making a vigorous effort to reach out to young people, minorities and other segments of the population not normally associated with Republican politics.
Asked if he plans to campaign aggressively in Texas, Paul responded, “Very much so” and said he plans to “organize across Texas” and travel into the state, with another visit coming up in about two weeks. The campaign has opened an Austin office and plans to “spend money” in Texas, Paul said.
Paul has drawn attention with high-profile Texas hires, including Steve Munisteri, the former state Republican chairman who is now a senior adviser in the Paul campaign. He also lured away two former Cruz operatives – digital campaign mastermind and fellow Baylor alum Vincent Harris, CEO of Austin-based Harris Media; and Rachel Kania, Cruz’s former Texas field director who now runs the Austin office.
Even before he officially launched his candidacy, Paul was increasing his visibility among Texas Republicans, delivering a keynote address at the Republican State Convention in Fort Worth in July. He also engaged North Texas Republicans in January with back-to-back speeches at a Reagan Day Dinner in Dallas and a Lincoln Day Dinner in Fort Worth.
Paul seems poised to tap into the base of supporters who fervently backed his father, but to what degree is yet to be determined. “I think we will lose some of the base, but the vast majority will be supporting Rand Paul,” said Justin Machacek, executive director of the Fort Worth-based American Liberty Association, which advocates religious liberty and constitutional law.
‘Rooting for Rand’
Debra Medina, a conservative activist who challenged Perry in the 2010 gubernatorial primary and has been a longtime supporter of Ron Paul, said she is also solidly behind his son. “I have a deep and abiding affection for the Pauls, for the family, for their works and their political views,” she said. “And I certainly am rooting for Rand.”
Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said the hiring of Munisteri, who was a popular Republican state chairman for five years until signing on with Paul at the start of 2015, was a strategically astute move that gives the campaign the benefit of Munisteri’s network of Republican contacts and access to donors.
Munisteri’s ties to the Paul family date to when he was a volunteer in four of Ron Paul’s congressional campaigns, the first time as a senior at Memorial High School in Houston. Later, as a Houston attorney, he voluntarily represented Paul in a dispute that someone had used his political mailing list without permission during Paul’s 1984 bid for the U.S. Senate.
After Munisteri founded a group called Young Conservatives of Texas, he tapped Rand Paul, who was then a student at Baylor, to be the campus president of the group.
Rand Paul was born in Pittsburg on Jan. 7, 1963, and was about 5 when the family moved to Lake Jackson, where his father set up a medical practice and for years was the only obstetrician in the county.
Robert Paul recalls those days growing up with his three brothers and two sisters as “pretty normal,” centering on sports and school. Youthful activities, according to newspaper profiles, included Pee Wee football, Cub Scouts and competitive swimming.
Politics also became a family mainstay as Ron Paul began pursuing his congressional career, with the Paul children helping their father with block-walking and other activities.
Now, as his older brother seeks the nation’s highest office, Robert Paul says he will help whenever he can break away from his demanding practice. “I think if he gets his message to the people and they listen and hear it, then … he should win,” he said. “He’s the right person.”
He also welcomes his brother’s plans to campaign aggressively in Texas. “Hopefully, he’ll be in Dallas-Fort Worth a lot so I’ll get to see him,” Robert Paul said.