Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul finds plenty of support in, of all place ... Berkeley
By Josh Richmanjrichman@bayareanewsgroup.com
Posted: 03/19/2014 03:11:20 PM PDT
BERKELEY -- Nobody should be surprised that Rand Paul got so warm a welcome Wednesday, even in a city whose name is often preceded in conversation by "The People's Republic of..."
After all, the junior U.S. Senator from Kentucky and likely contender for 2016's Republican presidential nomination is following in his father's footsteps by drawing crowds of enthusiastic young followers, particularly on college campuses, wherever he goes.
And his policies -- criticizing government surveillance programs, avoiding military actions that aren't vital to national security, rethinking the war on drugs, leaving states to decide same-sex marriage for themselves, and more -- draw voters from across the spectrum, including some of Berkeley's famed lefties
"He's a serious contender," said Bruce Cain, a political expert who directs Stanford University's Bill Lane Center for the American West. "He can come to the Bay Area and plausibly look for money, which is not the case with Sarah Palin or some of the other people on the right."
The younger Paul has found that money at a series of local fundraisers Tuesday and Wednesday, and will tap into his young activist base with a speech Wednesday afternoon at UC-Berkeley's International House.
Former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, might've stayed in the 2012 presidential primary campaign all the way through that May in part to keep building the national network of youthful volunteers and contributors that his son can now leverage for a 2016 run. The elder Paul raised about $40 million for 2012, finishing a not-so-distant third in the Iowa caucuses and second in New Hampshire's primary, testament to the strong ground games he had built in both states.
Throngs of young, screaming Paulites often made his events seem more like rock concerts than political rallies. Even as he lagged badly in delegate counts, Ron Paul's UC-Berkeley rally in April 2012 drew about 1,200 supporters.
Likewise, a crowd of young supporters carried Rand Paul to decisive victory March 8 in the Conservative Political Action Conference's straw poll.
His early jump on building networks and enthusiasm might put the younger Paul ahead of most other potential 2016 Republican contenders except for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who both ran before and has a "dark money" group already raising funds and sponsoring his trips around the country -- including his visit to the Bay Area this week. Even 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan might not have as easy a time leveraging Mitt Romney's infrastructure as Rand Paul will have leveraging Ron Paul's.
But the Kentucky senator is making his own inroads, too.
His Bay Area visit included a breakfast ($500 to $2,500) and a separate reception ($500) Tuesday at the Olympic Club of San Francisco and a dinner ($1,000 to $5,200) Tuesday night at the city's Alexander's Steakhouse; another dinner at the same price was scheduled for Wednesday night at North Beach Restaurant.
"I am a big fan of his courage and leadership on privacy issues and constitutional limits on the government," California Republican Party vice chair Harmeet Dhillon of San Francisco said after meeting him Tuesday. "He has great things to say about appealing to minority voters, fairness, fiscal restraint and a prudent foreign policy based on US interests."
Dhillon said the GOP has too many single-issue voters among its activists, "and we often lose elections as a result. Objectively, I would say that 95 percent of what I heard today should be palatable to most Republican and many non-Republican voters. Heck, even some Democrats, because it's common sense."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is at least temporarily tarnished by his "Bridgegate" scandal. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, might've lost ground by leading the charge into a government shutdown last fall and then letting the House take the heat. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is busy raising support and money for other Republicans, and says he'll decide his own future by the end of this year.
"There's nobody who's running away with it at the moment, so he can plausibly see himself as a contender," Cain said of Paul. "Whether in the end the party establishment is going to let that happen is another matter."
Some Republicans fear Paul's social stances could scare off some of the Christian-based conservative right, Cain said, while his talk of auditing and perhaps ending the Federal Reserve Bank might turn off the financial sector and businesses -- a disaster for the party.
"They see this as a problem but it's too early at this point for them to panic," Cain said.