America will not be voting for another president until 2016, but already Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, and a tea party darling, is being touted as a top candidate for the nomination.
Paul, the son of libertarian champion and former Texas congressman Ron Paul, is currently holding the media’s fascination after a near-13-hour-long filibuster Wednesday to delay the confirmation of John Brennan, the chief counterterrorism expert whom President Barack Obama picked earlier this year to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
The younger Paul’s grandstanding has since raised his political clout and put him at the forefront of the criticism of the Obama administration by civil libertarians wary of the possible domestic use of armed drones. Moreover, the historic political theater was a major action that some say set Paul apart -- at least for now -- from those rumored to be mulling a White House run three years from now.
The Kentucky Republican has expressed to Politico that he is “seriously” considering running for president in 2016.
“I think our party needs something new, fresh and different,” Paul said. “What we’ve been running -- nothing against the candidates necessarily -- but we have a good, solid niche in all the solidly red states throughout the middle of the country.”
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As Paul mulls the decision, the people behind the “Draft Rand Paul” movement that persuaded him to run for the Senate four years ago have created a new super PAC, Human Action PAC, hoping for the same results for the presidency.
The organization’s co-founder Anthony Astolfi, who also serves as marketing director, on Friday said it is the stand Paul took in the Senate earlier in the week that mobilized them to action this early.
“We saw this potential in him four years ago when our tea party drafted Rand Paul to run for the Senate,” said Astolfi, 28, who said he has consulted for companies like Sony (TYO:6758) and candidates like Ron Paul. “Now the rest of the country is seeing firsthand the ability of Rand Paul to transcend partisan politics and make a difference on issues that matter to Americans on all sides of the political spectrum.”
“We believe Rand Paul will be the leader to take the movement to the next level and accomplish the tangible results needed to shift our country back toward laws based on the Constitution and sound free market economics,” he added.
To that end, Human Action will be launching a Draft Rand Paul for President website next week.
At the moment, 500 people have contributed. But Astolfi remains tight-lipped about how much has been raised so far. What he did divulge is that the largest donation received is $100, from multiple people.
According to OpenSecrets.org, the website has raised more than $1,000 and is nearly $8,300 in debt.
The PAC was created last year, but the website launched only weeks ago. Its Facebook page already has more than 19,000 likes.
“Since our Super PAC is so new, we didn’t really want people’s first impression of us to be begging for money,” he said. “It was important to us to first give something to the community. It is for this reason that we started the free ‘Rand Paul for President’ bumper sticker promo.”
And when Paul is ready for the run, he could find himself with the backing of his father's many supporters.
Those loyal to his father’s movement were somewhat distrusting of the younger Paul. Some wanted the junior senator labeled as a “turncoat” when he voted to block Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary. Long before that, when the younger Paul endorsed Mitt Romney for president last year -- a move that shows he was willing to work with the establishment rather than against it all the time -- it drew the ire of those faithful to his father.
However, after Wednesday’s filibuster, Ron Paul loyalists have taken notice. He is now seen as the party’s defender of civil liberties, a core principle in the libertarian movement his father led. Tea party groups that supported his father praised Paul’s filibuster and urged other senators to "StandWithRand."
When Brennan’s name was brought up earlier this year as a nominee for CIA director, it spawned a discussion on drone warfare and the Obama administration’s policy, a discussion that Paul never let go of. Paul would later oppose the 25-year CIA veteran’s confirmation, demanding the government clarify the extent of the president’s authority to use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil if they aren’t an imminent threat.
Eventually, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote Paul, stating that the president hasn’t the authority to kill Americans who are noncombatants.
“The question to the White House is simple: Does President Obama believe that he has the authority to assassinate American citizens on U.S. soil without charge or trial?” FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe said in a statement. “This is a basic civil liberties issue. The Bill of Rights makes it clear that President Obama does not. … We encourage all other senators to ‘stand with Rand’ and do the same. I would if I could.”
Paul’s performance has been hailed by some experts as the “filibuster at its best” and even if the senator wasn’t looking ahead for 2016 at the time, it has put him in a good spot.
“Politically, from a policy point of view, it keeps his name front and center in the party,” said Thomas Whalen, a political historian at Boston University. “He is setting himself up as a major figure in the party and to be taken seriously for 2016 -- a commander in chief quality to run for 2016. It puts him a little bit ahead of the crowd. He is already running for 2016.”
“To us, this election has already started and Rand is running,” Astolfi said. “We plan to do everything a modern-era campaign would do from phone banking to canvassing, and social outreach. This head start could very well make the difference.”