Sen. Rand Paul, the maverick first-term senator and Texas native who rode a tea party wave from a Kentucky ophthalmology practice to Congress, on Tuesday formally announced a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
"I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government," Paul wrote on his official campaign Web site, hours ahead of an official campaign launch in Louisville.
Paul’s announcement makes him the second major Republican candidate to formally jump into the 2016 race, just the first of a string of campaign debuts slated for this month.
A strongly libertarian conservative, Paul first drew notice as a freshman senator for a nearly 13-hour filibuster he conducted in opposition to President Obama’s drone policy and the nomination of John O. Brennan to head the CIA.
An ophthalmologist who still performs pro bono eye surgeries, Paul did not hold elected office until ascending to the Senate in 2010 — but he’s been steeped in politics for his entire life as the scion of one of America’s most famous libertarian families. As a college student, Paul once took a semester off from school to work on father Ron Paul’s Senate primary campaign in 1984 and was involved with the longtime congressman's other runs for elected office, including his two campaigns for the GOP presidential nomination.
On the campaign trail, the Kentucky senator is expected to continue the pitch he’s made while traveling the country to lay the groundwork for a presidential run: that the Republican Party needs to broaden its appeal to voters who have traditionally shunned it.
“White, black, brown, rich, poor, with tattoos and without tattoos, with earrings and without earrings,” Paul told a room packed full of young people in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md. “We need to take our message where it’s not been before.”
On Capitol Hill, Paul has been known for his unlikely alliances with Democrats — and, particularly early in his Senate career, for his clashes with members of his own party. He has co-authored bills on reforming the criminal justice system with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and legalizing medical marijuana with Booker and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) Criminal justice reform has become one of Paul’s signature issues, and he has been using it, and a plan to save Detroit, to try to make inroads with black voters.
“There is still significant segregation in our society,” Paul said last month at Bowie State University, a traditionally black university in Maryland.
And Paul has repeatedly sparred with some of his GOP colleagues, including both Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and likely challenger Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) over foreign policy and other issues. But as he has approached his presidential run, Paul has been mending fences with many Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill, including his state's senior senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell has endorsed Paul’s push for a Kentucky presidential caucus, which would allow the junior senator to run for president and his Senate seat simultaneously.
Paul has been looking to broaden his appeal off Capitol Hill as well, with some of his more notable libertarian stances inching into more traditionally conservative territory as he prepared to run for president. He has been meeting with evangelical pastors to woo the faith community in the important states of Iowa and South Carolina; last month, he told a group of pastors that a moral crisis is leading people to believe that same-sex marriage is acceptable.
Paul has also been tirelessly courting young people, speaking at colleges and universities around the country for the last year and a half. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, Paul runs three times as well among voters under 50 than over 50. And he's staking a claim to tech during the 2016 cycle, opening offices in Austin and Silicon Valley and using platforms like Snapchat to broaden his appeal to younger voters who may not respond to traditional political ad buys or outreach efforts. Paul is also trying to tap into the vast well of tech money, holding meetings with big-pocketed potential donors in California and other tech hubs.
Paul's formal campaign launch was scheduled for Tuesday at noon at the Galt House, a hotel in downtown Louisville. Over the rest of the week, he plans to barnstorm the four early voting states — New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada — in a "Stand with Rand" tour. An adviser said Paul will hit on different themes at each stop: In New Hampshire Wednesday, he will discuss civil liberties, while on Thursday in South Carolina he will focus on national defense in a speech at the USS Yorktown.
As his campaign kicks off, Paul will be surrounded by many of the advisers who helped him ascend to the Senate, including his closest aide, Doug Stafford, and longtime Paul family loyalist Jesse Benton. He'll also be joined by Ron Paul, who is not not scheduled to speak.
The senator lives in Bowling Green, Ky., with his wife, Kelley. They have three sons. He attended Baylor University, but did not graduate, and Duke Medical School. At the time, Duke didn’t require medical students to have an undergraduate degree, a policy that has since changed.
Paul will publish two books this year: “Taking A Stand” will come out May 26, and “Our Presidents and Their Prayers” will be released in the fall.
"It's time for a new way, a new set of ideas, a new leader," Paul said at CPAC in February, in footage he used in a video released Sunday night. "Above all, it's time for a new president."