U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is set to become the first heavy-hitter of the 2016 GOP primary with his announcement tomorrow — with a candidacy that threatens to pit the party’s libertarian wing against the traditionally more hawkish mainstream, now focused on Iran nuke talks and Islamic terrorism.
Paul is regarded as a top contender in a race where Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the only declared candidate so far. A Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald poll of New Hampshire voters last month found Paul was the most popular Republican, with a 57 percent favorable rating, though he usually ranks third, fourth or fifth in Republican voter polls, and has been overshadowed recently by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Paul also needs to show he can raise big money, or he risks being outspent by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, among others.
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who advised John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said Paul “could do well initially in the opening contests” because of the wide-open field and the “intensity of his libertarian followers.”
“But if Rand is unable to paint himself as a ‘reluctant warrior’ and is unable to get traction early in the nomination, he will be dead in the water,” O’Connell said. “A good deal of the Republican Party is what I would call ‘hawkish.’ Unlike in previous years, foreign policy and national security issues remain high on the voter-interest radar.”