FORT WORTH — Since 1988, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul watched his father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, run three noteworthy but quixotic presidential campaigns.
But if Rand Paul follows through on his own presidential bid — as he’s widely expected to do — he will not be running to pull the GOP over to the libertarian principles he grew up with. The Kentucky senator made clear this weekend during a swing through Texas that he would run to win.
“If we decide to do this, we will want to broaden the coalition to include a winning majority that means something, that appeals to people that have libertarian leanings, but also some people who are traditional conservatives, Christian conservatives and mainstream conservatives of all walks of life," Rand Paul said in an interview with The Texas Tribune, addressing the biggest difference of his approach to the campaigns his father ran.
Paul, who grew up in Lake Jackson, visited North Texas to give keynote speeches at a pair of North Texas GOP dinners. The trip reflected how Texas is central to his strategy.
On the surface, there is not much political oxygen in the Lone Star State for a lesser-known Republican contender like Paul.
The 2016 GOP field is not just likely to be crowded — it'll be crowded with folks with strong ties to Texas. Paul's aim will be to persuade local Republicans to cast a presidential ballot against two men for whom they’ve voted before, former Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and another candidate with a familiar name on the ballot, Bush.
Cruz has the passion, Perry has 25 years' worth of statewide name identification, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has deep ties with the donor class.
But Texas' political operative talent and likely early March 2016 primary delegates are all but certain to be awarded to campaigns on a proportional basis – and Paul is making his play.
“Texas will be early. Texas is big, and having roots here and all that sort of points [us] towards it,” he said. “I think that Texas is important for many reasons.”
At both GOP events he attended this weekend, he sported his black “Texas boots.” He said he purchased them 15 years ago for the Texas State Society’s Black Tie and Boots Ball during President George W. Bush’s 2000 inauguration.
His speeches were heavy on privacy, government waste and spending. And he hammered away at the likely Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for not taking stronger action as secretary of state to prevent the 2012 Benghazi attack.
Multiple times he referred to the United States’ intervention in Libya as “Hillary’s War.”
But in making his case this weekend, he also argued that he was the candidate most likely to bring new voters into the fold.
At the Dallas County Republican Party Reagan Day Dinner on Friday night, Paul told the crowd that liberals do not have the monopoly on environmental issues, because people who work outside or are outdoor hobbyists — like hunters — care about pollution.
At the Tarrant County Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday night, he ribbed the attendees about their Texas braggadocio, but then quickly reminded them of his roots.
“We got a bunch of family here,” he said, pointing out a brother in the audience who practices medicine in Fort Worth. “I don’t know if it’s going to do much difference in an election, but we got a bunch of family.”
After local officials auctioned off items — including a hunting weekend and an AR-15 rifle — to benefit the county party, Paul brought up the recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo.
He called concern among black Americans about criminal justice “an undercurrent of unease.”
“I traveled to Ferguson, not because I wanted to get involved with the specifics of what happened there, but I wanted to know why people were unhappy,” he said. He further argued that while white Americans break laws, they are often better able than blacks and Hispanics to avoid jail because of better counsel.
As Paul made his way across North Texas, his entourage included a new arrival: outgoing state GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri.
Paul announced on Thursday that Munisteri would join the campaign as a senior adviser. This came a few months after Paul hired Austin-based Republican digital strategist Vincent Harris.
"I think part of Steve coming on board shows that we’re serious about Texas,” Paul said in the interview. “And Texas is a big state with a lot of talent, but also, you know, I have a little partiality towards Texas, having grown up here."
When Paul was asked if Texas would prove consequential in the nominating contest, Munisteri jumped in.
“Remember, we’re the fifth primary,” he said. “We’re Tuesday March 1, which is the earliest you can go if you’re not one of the four carve-out states.”
Those “carve-out" states are Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
So even if a candidate wins the Texas primary, he or she will not necessarily win all of its delegates. That is an opportunity for a candidate like Paul to make headway.
One of the Republicans who could be in play for Paul was Marjorie Ford, a retiree at the Dallas event. After the dinner, she said that she was unaware that Paul was a doctor that his stump speech piqued her interest.
“I was more impressed than I thought I might be,” she said.