U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is making his first campaign swing through Texas as a declared presidential candidate, a trip that will highlight both his early organization in the state and personal connections to it.
"I know how important Texas is," the Kentucky Republican said Wednesday in an interview, recalling Texas' prominent role in GOP presidential politics, including his congressman father's support for Ronald Reagan's 1976 challenge to President Gerald Ford. That was when the so-called Reagan's Raiders in the Texas delegation to the Republican National Convention fought to keep Ford from returning to the White House.
Texas could again factor prominently into the GOP nominating contest next year, and Paul, who grew up in Lake Jackson and went to Baylor University, is looking to get a piece of the action. He is set to rally supporters then sign books Friday afternoon at a downtown Houston hotel before attending a fundraiser in the city. He said his mom, wife and sister are also pitching in, hosting events Thursday through Saturday in Houston and Lake Jackson.
Paul won't be the only 2016 hopeful this week in Texas, whose March 1 primary is earlier than usual and has kept candidates from both parties traveling to the state at a steady clip. Paul's Houston visit will come the same day another GOP presidential candidate, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, swings through Dallas. And on Sunday, Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont running for president, will also pay a visit to Texas, holding town hall meetings in Dallas and Houston.
In the interview, Paul said he is taking the state seriously as part of a long-term strategy, mindful that the number of candidates with ties to Texas may seem large now but could be smaller come March 1. Leading the pack of GOP hopefuls who can claim connections to Texas are the two contenders who currently hail from the state, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry.
"I think the one thing you don't know at this point is how many candidates will last and how many will still be there, so there's always a chance that some Texas candidates aren't there," Paul said. "So I think it's important for people who really want to win the nomination to be organized in Texas. We will organize and continue to organize in Texas."
Paul's campaign began harvesting his Texas ties in earnest several months ago, when it landed two high-profile hires in Texas, Austin-based digital guru Vincent Harris and former state GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri. In April, the campaign opened a tech-focused outpost at Capital Factory, a start-up incubator in downtown Austin.
The Houston trip will take Paul into the backyard of Cruz, whose recently released book has created a rift between the two. In the book, Cruz suggests that Paul tried to undermine the Texan's long-running 2013 speech against the Affordable Care Act when he joined Cruz on the Senate floor and spoke briefly.
"It's perplexing," Paul said, echoing comments he made earlier this week to Politico. "I have a nice hand-written note that he wrote to me, thanking me warmly and generously for coming down to the floor. So I can't get into the mind of others. People ask me a question, I give them an answer. It doesn't sort of fit with his private correspondence."
Paul said he had not spoken with Cruz or his office since the book was released, adding: "We try not to get too concerned. There's so many other people saying one thing or another. We try to keep focused on what we're trying to do."
Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler said Thursday that the campaign stands by what's in the book.