Tea party president? Rand Paul plays coy

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 22, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Newly elected Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is coy when asked about his 2012 presidential ambitions.

"The only decision I've made is I won't run against my dad," Paul told the Post and Courier newspaper Monday during a visit to Charleston, S.C. His father, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, has run twice for president — in 1988 as the nominee of the Libertarian Party and in 2008 in a bid for the Republican nomination.

Rand Paul visited South Carolina and has plans to hit several other key presidential primary states while promoting his new book, "The Tea Party Goes to Washington," which was co-written by Jack Hunter, a Charleston-area radio host and columnist.

Paul's presidential flirtation also came up during an interview last month with ABC News.

"Come back and ask me in a few months," he told ABC.

Paul's office declined to comment further Tuesday beyond referring back to the comments the senator made during his recent South Carolina trip.

During his Senate campaign, Paul said he's interested in elevating the tea party's message of fiscal conservatism and helping shape the debate on federal spending and debt reduction.

Last week, he released a federal debt reduction plan that calls for $4 trillion in cuts, which he said would generate a $19 billion surplus in fiscal 2016. Paul's plan calls for eliminating the departments of Commerce, Education, Housing and Urban Development and Energy, repealing the health care law, removing other smaller agencies and trimming the budgets of several other agencies.

So far, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is the only Republican to take the formal step of creating a presidential exploratory committee. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are almost certain to run.

Tea party favorites Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are also mentioned as possible Republican presidential contenders, as are Ron Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and John Huntsman, a former Utah governor and soon-to-be departing U.S. ambassador to China.

Rand Paul, who has served just three months of his six-year term, "wouldn't be in the top tier" were he to run, said Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"Part of it may be that he looks and sees so far no pure tea party candidate is running," Sabato said. "Is there room for someone like Rand Paul? Sure. This is a free for all, and I'll be surprised if we don't have some surprise candidates. Having said that, you don't win a presidential election on the fly. You need to have raised money and spend time in South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa."

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