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Eye On Candidates
September 30, 2015

Paul Campaign Facing Challenges

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is currently in 10th place in the average of polls, and it’s probably fair to say he and his backers hoped to be higher up in the standings at this point. Thought to be the natural heir to his father’s base of support from the 2008 and 2012 nomination contests, Paul is having to fight Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to hold on to the libertarian-leaning voters, according to The Washington Examiner:

Ted Cruz is stealing Rand Paul's libertarian base

In the Senate, Ted Cruz stood with Rand Paul. On the campaign trail, he's stomping all over him.

Cruz on Tuesday unveiled a coalition of libertarian supporters that is chock full of activists who backed Paul's father, Ron Paul, in the two previous Republican presidential primaries. Cruz very unsubtly moved to stamp out the competition for this voting bloc with a campaign video that features this group recalling their fondness for Ron Paul and discussing how Cruz embodies his libertarian ethos. Libertarian Republicans were supposed to form the bulwark of Rand Paul's 2016 campaign….

Paul was the heir apparent to the Republican Party's liberty movement faction that was built by his father, then a Texas congressman, over two presidential campaigns. He won a Kentucky Senate seat in the Tea Party wave of 2010, and parlayed that victory, and the Paul family legacy into national prominence as the most influential libertarian-leaning Republican.

Cruz and Paul were the only two candidates to receive perfect “20” scores on Free Markets from the Leadership Project for America Political Action Committee. Free market issues tend to drive much of the libertarian-leaning element in the Republican Party, so it’s not that surprising that many Ron Paul supporters are gravitating toward Cruz. The Examiner explains more about Cruz’s strategy of appealing to these voters:

In competition for the Republican nomination, Cruz has moved to muscle out Paul and seize the movement left behind by the elder Paul. Indeed, that's been part of Cruz's 2016 strategy from the very beginning.

The Cruz campaign has approached the primary under the rubric that there are four distinct brackets, or factions of voters, to compete in, or for: The establishment wing, the libertarian bloc, the Tea Party and evangelicals. Confident of his credibility with Tea Party voters, Cruz set about courting evangelicals, starting with his campaign launch at Liberty University. Pleased with that his progress on that front, he's now focused on wooing liberty voters….

So far the Cruz strategy seems to be to focus on high-profile libertarian endorsements, and it remains to be seen if he can replicate the feat with grassroots supporters who will show up at the polls and caucus sites once the nomination contest officially gets underway.

The low poll standing and the threat from Cruz aren’t the only things that ought to be of concern for the Paul campaign. Although it appears to have been somewhat overblown in initial media reports, one of the super PACs supporting Paul has apparently decided to stop, for the time being, raising money to promote Paul. From The Washington Post:

The news broke Tuesday afternoon: A Super PAC that had been built to help Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) win the Republican nomination was effectively finished. According to Politico, Cato Institute co-founder Ed Crane had “stopped raising money” for the Purple PAC, “dealing a damaging blow to an already cash-starved” Paul operation.

Among the people surprised by this news was Ed Crane.

“This reporter from Politico called and said, 'I heard you haven't been raising money,’” Crane said in an interview. “I haven’t been raising money all summer! Nothing has changed. The PAC is still operating -- I'm not shutting it down.”

In a story that sounded fairly close to what had been reported, Crane said he was “about to send out a piece of direct mail” to high-dollar libertarian donors, the sort he spent decades cultivating.

“But this was just at the time when Rand started fading into the background,” said Crane. “This is supposed to be the year of the outsider. He’s the consummate outsider candidate, and he was perceived as yet another one of the guys. I've got $1.4 million, I could get a lot more, but I didn't want to ask my wealthy friends to chip in at that juncture.”

So the story isn’t quite as bad as it might have been, but it’s still not helpful to the Paul campaign for the perception to exist that Crane, who along with Ron Paul has probably done the most over the past 30-plus years to promote and define libertarianism through his leadership of the Cato Institute, hasn’t been sufficiently impressed with the candidate to be pushing hard for donors to support him. The Post article explains a little more on that front, quoting Crane:

“He just has all this upside potential. But his response to the Iranian nuclear deal was a mistake in my view. It was not consistent, and it didn't distinguish him -- which is amazing, because all of the other candidates besides Rand are enamored of the neocons. He's got a great message, if he wants to use it. I want to run TV ads on that message, but he needs to be using it, first.”

Crane is still backing Paul, as is another super PAC formed solely to back him (Purple PAC was formed to support libertarian candidates, of whom Paul is just one, albeit the most prominent) that is not pulling back or wavering. But it seems likely that Paul needs to do something to move the needle in the polls, organizationally, or with his fundraising to capture the libertarian-leaning voters who backed his father and whom he needs.