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Rand Paul Keeping a Close Eye on Texas

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is readying his presidential campaign — and his political play for the Lone Star State.

Sen. Rand Paul speaks to supporter after briefly addressing public at the opening of his new office at the downtown Austin...

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is expected to announce he's running for president on Tuesday in Louisville, becoming the second major candidate to officially enter the race.

As he embarks on a national campaign for the GOP nomination, Paul’s actions over the last several months telegraph that he will have an eye back home on Texas – a region with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to GOP political talent, delegates and money.

It helps that the Kentucky senator has no shortage of ties to the Lone Star State: He was raised here, he attended Baylor University in Waco and his father was a longtime congressman representing the Lake Jackson area.

Texas, with its March 1 primary, "will be early," Paul told The Texas Tribune in a February interview. "Texas is big, and having roots here and all that sort of points [us] towards it. I think that Texas is important for many reasons.” 

Three other likely White House hopefuls with Texas ties – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, former Gov. Rick Perry and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – have political infrastructures here set to compete with Paul's, if not overshadow it. 

But Texas delegates will be awarded on a proportional basis – not a winner-take-all scenario – and so Paul may only need to win a fraction of the delegates to walk away with a moral victory. Whichever candidates are left standing after the Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada primaries and caucuses will have to calculate whether the cost of campaigning in massive, expensive Texas is worth the return.

If Paul survives that far into the primary season and opts for a Texas fight, he'll have deep roots here. 

"If Sen. Paul enters this race, he will compete aggressively in every state, especially Texas,” his spokesman Sergio Gor wrote in a Monday email. “He grew up in Texas, has unlimited connections to the state and a strong base of support already behind him."

The statement is not all talk: Paul has already landed serious Texas political talent, beginning with the hire of then-Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri back in January. 

Traditionally, a state party chair is a close associate of the state’s most powerful party officeholder – typically a governor or a senator. Munisteri signed early with Paul, despite affinity for both Cruz and Perry. That's because Munisteri’s friendship with the Paul family goes back decades, through the Young Conservatives of Texas organization and Munisteri's work on the campaigns of Paul's father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul

“It is a huge factor that I’ve known him, but it’s also a factor that I love his conservative missionary work in nontraditional communities,” said Munisteri, pointing to Rand Paul’s outreach to minority communities and the youth vote.

Munisteri is keeping his hopes in perspective. He pointed out that there will be other state primaries taking place on the same day as Texas, and that "if Sen. Cruz and Gov. Perry are still viable, it’s very difficult to compete with favorite sons” in Texas.

Regardless, Paul is maintaining a big presence here. His Texas ties played a role in landing a top Texas digital operative, Vincent Harris. In a recent interview with the Tribune, Harris – a former Cruz operative – indicated that part of his attraction to Paul was the fact that both men attended Baylor.

And Paul’s friendships extend to the statehouse. State Sen. Don Huffines, a Dallas Republican who has known the Paul family for more than two decades, plans to play an "active role" in the campaign, Huffines spokesman Matt Langston said. Huffines is expected to officially endorse Paul later in the race and has already hosted a couple of fundraisers for him in Texas. He also accompanied Paul during the senator’s trip to Fort Worth in January. More recently, Huffines hosted a Twitter town hall for Paul while the senator was in Austin for the South by Southwest festival.

On that same Austin trip, Paul opened a campaign office. Heading up the outpost are Harris and field guru Rachel Kania, who is also a former Cruz staffer. Kania said Google staffers will be on hand Tuesday in Austin to monitor how the presidential announcement is playing online. 

 

Beyond the allies with bold-faced names, Paul also has backers among the libertarian-leaning voters who fueled his father's congressional and presidential runs. Yet the younger Paul is hoping to branch out in his bid for the White House and has made a sustained effort to reach nontraditional GOP voters.

"He could put together one of the broadest coalitions in the Republican Party in Texas and across the country," said Austin-based Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser, predicting Paul could not only draw support from libertarian-minded activists but also social conservatives impressed with his anti-abortion credentials, for example. 

On his latest swing through Texas, Paul was on hand to help launch Liberty Action Texas, a group co-founded by Steinhauser that is aimed at getting young people more involved in Republican politics in the state. Steinhauser was the campaign manager for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn's 2014 re-election bid. 

Texans who can't make it to Louisville on Tuesday for Paul's announcement have their own chance to celebrate his campaign — with at least three karaoke fundraisers in Austin, Corpus Christi and Houston.

While most of the so-called "Liberty Karaoke" events are not affiliated with Paul's operation, his Austin office is helping to host the one there, said Matthew Hurtt, an organizer for the Virginia-based group coordinating the sing-alongs and directing attendees to donate to Paul's campaign.

As of Monday morning, Hurtt planned on holding 61 fundraisers in 37 states.

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