The most interesting Republican considering a 2016 presidential campaign is from Texas, but not the guy you think.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul put up some good poll numbers, and also hired good campaign help.
For now, that makes the former Brazoswood High School and Baylor student the talk of the month, at least more so than Sen. Ted Cruz or Gov. Rick Perry.
Once, commentators asked if Paul would move to the mainstream.
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Since Nov. 4, they’re asking whether the mainstream moved toward Paul.
“The other candidates will be out there saying, ‘Elect me because I’m better than the others,’ ” said Doug Wead, an author and adviser to Paul’s and father Ron’s campaigns.
“Rand will be the one saying, ‘Elect me because I’ll start us back on the right road.’ ”
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist heard Paul describe his foreign policy as “conservative realism” in an Oct. 23 speech and commented within earshot of several reporters, “I think I just heard Ronald Reagan.”
Fellow Kentuckian and incoming Senate Majority Leader-elect Sen. Mitch McConnell said he could support Paul as a 2016 nominee.
Paul is second in the poll averages behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, although one recent New Hampshire poll had Mitt Romney winning that state in a runaway if he runs again. And if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, Paul is polling closer to her than Bush.
But the telling news came when Paul’s political action committee hired a new digital campaign strategist: Vincent Harris of Austin-based Harris Media, who put Cruz and Texas Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick on every Facebook page and social-media feed and helped boost both to overwhelming primary victories over old-school Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
In a fawning profile, Bloomberg called Harris “The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet.”
In a statement, Harris wrote that he was drawn to Paul’s campaign for the “natural base of liberty-minded technologists” and as a fellow Baylor alum.
Harris’ firm recently ran a contemporary social-media campaign for the very mainstream McConnell, 72, a 15-point winner Nov. 4. With former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Harris client, not yet in the race and Cruz’s numbers lagging, Paul snapped up Harris.
“What it all means is that the senator [Paul] is becoming a force that cannot be ignored,” Wead said.
“He wants the party to be bold and new. … I have older denominational leaders calling me saying, ‘What’s the appeal to Rand Paul?’ The young people in their churches are for him.”
Paul’s libertarian streak runs against the grain of traditional family-values Republican politics. Instead of calling for morality-by-force-of-federal-law, he talks about liberty.
“It’s no longer about forcing people to accept their doctrine on every poltical issue — it’s about the Constitution,” Wead said.
“That works for evangelicals because it protects freedom of religion.”
Once thought weak on civil rights issues — a holdover from the libertarian argument that discrimination is freedom of expression — Paul has called for reforming the justice system to prevent discriminatory sentencing.
If Paul has a problem, it lies with Republicans unsure what to make of a candidate who meets with Sharpton or criticizes the party’s “brand.”
Paul can win voters who never cared for his father, Wead said.
“He communicates his ideas better, and he seems more politically astute,” Wead said.
A formal campaign announcement isn’t expected until spring.
But for now, the talk is all Paul.