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Shockingly, Rand Paul Could be the GOP Nominee and Trouble for the Dems

Young male voters are drawn to Libertarian positions on social issues.
 
 
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U.S. Senator Rand Paul speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Christopher Halloran

 

In 2008, Barack Obama was the candidate of change, first for Democrats and then the nation. For 2016, those same political stars, to be the agent of change, appear to be lining up behind Rand Paul, Kentucky’s Republican U.S. senator.

Yes, that Rand Paul, who is more accurately labeled as a shrink-the-government Libertarian and has a long history of questionable statements on race. Just as there are signs that Americans are not enthralled by Hillary Clinton’s likely return to the presidential fold (In June, it was Monica Lewinsky; in July, it’s her book), there are signs that Paul is pulling ahead of better-known Republican rivals.

It’s not just that Paul is the clear frontrunner in a new and credible national poll. He has supporters across every key GOP demographic by age and faction, from Tea Partiers to corporate America to the religious right. Younger men, who aren’t likely to vote for Clinton, find his "maverick" personality new and appealing. Similarly, the millennial generation is superficially embracing the Libertarian idea that the government should leave them alone to do as they please. Marijuana laws are one example.      

“This guy can win the nomination,” pollster John Zogby said Friday, adding he did not have that view until he took a deeper look at a June 27-29 nationwide survey he conducted. Paul was not only in first place with 20 percent in a crowded field of 10, he had deeper support than “establishment” Republicans. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and ex-Florida Jeb Bush each polled at 13 percent. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had 8 percent, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had 7 percent. Five others had even less support. Other national polls put Paul in the lead, but Zogby has him clearly out front.

“When you see him get up to 20 percent, and especially against the best know names of the party, and that his appeal is across the board… there is some depth there,” Zogby said. “He transcends the debate that’s going on in the Republican Party by appealing ideologically [to its factions]. He comes off as pure Libertarian in some respects. If you are anti-interventionist, he’s got that piece. If you are pro-First Amendment, he’s got that piece. If you are pro-Second Amendment, he’s got that piece… Like his dad [Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul] he’s pro-life, but he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve.”

Both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney were anti-abortion as well, but avoided making that stance a centerpiece of their presidential campaigns. Indeed, the religious right faction of the GOP will not allow a pro-choice candidate to be a presidential nominee, knowing full well the power of appointing anti-abortion federal judges and issuing executive orders to impose limits on birth control and sex education.

Zogby would not go so far as to say that Paul could beat Clinton, but he cited precedents where Democrats who portrayed their nomination and presidency as inevitable ended up losing. The foremost example is Clinton herself from 2007-'08, when her top consultants wrote elaborate papers envisioning her election, transition team and inauguration. But there are others, such as Walter Mondale in 1984, who, like Clinton, polled over 50 percent for months, got the nomination, but eventually lost to Ronald Reagan.

Paul is not new to presidential politics. His father, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, has run for president three times, twice as a Republican and once as a Libertarian. In 2012, Ron Paul finished in the top three in Iowa and New Hampshire. Rand Paul was active in that campaign, and has a base in those states.