Rand Paul makes it official: ‘I am running for president’

Updated

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday announced on his campaign website that he will run for president in 2016.

“I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government,” he wrote on randpaul.com.

Paul will formally announce his campaign in Louisville before embarking on a tour through four of the early primary states: first New Hampshire, then South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada.

Paul is selling himself as a different sort of Republican candidate. But do his libertarian roots and biography make him so different from the mainstream of the GOP that he’s incapable of winning the White House?

That’s the question he’ll have to start to answer on Tuesday as he launches his presidential campaign, just five years after being elected to the Senate from Kentucky in 2010. 

“On April 7, a different kind of Republican will take on Washington,” his announcement video reads. As it closes, supporters chant, “President Paul!” in the background.

The video—and, implicitly, the campaign he’s set to build — pitches Paul as a unique bridge-builder to constituencies that are traditionally not strongholds for the Republican Party. Over the course of his first term in the Senate, Paul has made a point to reach out to young voters, Silicon Valley donors and African-Americans.

“We’ve gotten rid of segregation du jour, segregation by law, but we still have a problem in our country that is somewhat like segregation,” Paul said last month at Bowie State University, a historically black institution. “As Martin Luther King said in 1967, there are two Americas.”

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An eye surgeon who studied at Duke before opening a private practice and still does medical missions abroad, Paul often appears at events tieless, in jeans and his trademark turtlenecks with a blazer — a dress code much less formal than many of his would-be rivals. His libertarian philosophy — and its inherent focus on personal privacy and civil liberties — has helped him make inroads with tech entrepreneurs, and would seem to appeal to phone-obsessed youth who don’t want the government poring through that data.

“Your notification is the buzz of the propellers on the drone, as it flies over your head in the seconds before you are killed. Is that what we really want from our government?” Paul asked during a nearly 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor that he launched to protest the administration’s insistence that killing American citizens with drone strikes is legal. 

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But for all the potential benefits, Paul’s ideological and biographical roots also present a major challenge to his presidential aspirations — so much so that many Republicans privately believe he is incapable of winning the Republican nomination, let alone the general election.

Looming over the tour will be Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican who trod the presidential campaign trail ahead of his son. In his wake, Ron Paul left a second-place finish in New Hampshire; a strong, loyal network of supporters and infrastructure in the early states; and a litany of controversial statements based on his libertarian ideology.

“I would like to start off by talking about the subject and the subject is secession and, uh, nullification, the breaking up of government, and the good news is it’s gonna happen. It’s happening,” Ron Paul said this January during an appearance at the libertarian Mises Institute.

Ron Paul’s strident anti-war positions have also become increasingly problematic for his son since 2008, especially in a Republican Party that’s more hawkish than ever on issues like aiding Israel. Rand Paul, once against all foreign aid, now says he makes an exception for Israel.

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The younger Paul has also sometimes struggled to distance himself from his father’s more controversial views, including on civil rights. He sparked fierce backlash during his 2010 campaign when he suggested he didn’t support Title II of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents private businesses from discriminating against customers based on race. 

He walked it back — but has been prickly about the subject ever since, taking umbrage when asked about it in interviews or at events.

That defensive tendency poses a broader risk, too. In a recent CNBC interview, Paul became visibly angry at anchor Kelly Evans. “Shhh. Calm down a bit here, Kelly. Let me answer the question,” he said when she pressed him for an answer on tax repatriation.

Paul has also shown a willingness to play provocateur in the race, lashing out at his opponents on Twitter — slamming Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican., over Cuba and even sending out a fake phone call between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, jabbing their family ties to politics.

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He’s also likely to rely on the Internet for another key element: fundraising. His father was able to raise millions online, using so-called “money bombs” to bring in as much as $5 million at a time. He also will likely be able to count on some support from the Silicon Valley donors who like his stances on privacy and opposing NSA collection of Americans’ cell phone records. Still, Paul is unlikely to draw much cash from traditional, establishment Republican donors — and indeed might run into intense financial opposition should he start to gain traction in the race, as many GOP donors, particularly in the party’s hawkish wing, have vowed to keep him from winning.

Overall, Paul is clearly working to build a coalition with broader appeal than his father’s. He joined forces with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, supporting his 2014 reelection effort early and helping prevent a strong tea party or libertarian candidate from emerging in the primary. McConnell has said he’ll support Paul’s presidential efforts in 2016 — and potentially help Paul’s efforts to change Kentucky’s laws so Paul can run for Senate and for president at the same time. (Paul is up for reelection in 2016; Kentucky currently bars candidates from appearing twice on the same primary ballot.) 

But whether it’s enough remains to be seen — and there’s some risk in going too far and potentially alienating the activists who’ve religiously attended caucus meetings, state conventions and straw polls to help his father win. “I want to be judged by who I am, not by a relationship,” Paul told The New York Times in an interview in January. “I have wanted to develop my own way, and my own, I guess, connections to other intellectual movements myself when I came to Washington.”

Ben Mayer of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and MSNBC producer Anthony Terrell contributed to this report.

Rand Paul

Rand Paul makes it official: 'I am running for president'

Updated