Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is taking the opportunity to build on the grassroots organization his father established in his two presidential runs, during his first trip to South Carolina today. As he has during other early primary and caucus state stops, Paul has schedule private meetings with grassroots activists, in addition to a few high-profile events with Republican donors.
After attending a $1,500-a-plate luncheon with top donors this morning, Paul sat down with activists, including Richard Cash, a businessman who recently launched a primary bid against one of Paul's colleagues, Sen. Lindsey Graham. "My father certainly has a lot in common with Sen. Paul and admires him," his son and manager Caleb Cash said, though he added that the meeting was not indicative of an endorsement on either side.
This afternoon, Paul will stop in Columbia, where he is scheduled to meet with several grassroots leaders, including a few members of his father's Palmetto State team from last cycle. Dr. Mike Vasoski, who chaired former Rep. Ron Paul's campaign in the state last year, is among them. The elder Paul came in a disappointing fourth place in the state's primary, but this time, Vasoski says, the grassroots are ready. And they won't allow another candidate to drop into the race and co-opt the movement, the way former Speaker Newt Gingrich did in 2012. "That's not going to happen again," Vasoski said.
"In retrospect, we're starting off earlier with everything and we're starting out with a leg up now," Vasoski said, in a phone interview on his way to Columbia. "In 2008 Ron Paul got [15,773] votes. Four years later he got 78,000 votes, so we've learned how to use our political impact to make things happen. And people are just chomping at the bits ... to have this thing take off."
Whether or not Paul ends up running in 2016 is up to the senator and his advisers, Vasoski said, but he cautioned that Paul is in a pretty good place right now in the Senate and as he builds seniority there he could be an even stronger voice for the liberty movement. "The last thing he needs to do is to do anything to jeopardize that seat," he said.
Allen Olson, the founder and former chairman of the Columbia Tea Party, will also attend the Columbia event, at the invitation of the state party. But Olson cautioned that he hasn't made up his mind about 2016. Olson said he is leaning towards supporting Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., but is attending today's listening session to give Paul a fair hearing. Olson said he is concerned about Paul's position on foreign affairs and wants to hear more about it. "I'm not sure how he can unite both sides [of the party]," Olson added.
According to a Republican source with knowledge of the meetings, Paul will also meet with: Chris Barczak, who ran Ron Paul's operations in the state's midlands last cycle; Karen Iacovelli, a major Republican donor in the state and a bundler for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign; state Rep. Donna Wood and her husband Kerry Wood, of the aptly named Dark Horse Strategy Group, who consulted on Curtis Bostic's campaign against Rep. Mark Sanford, which he lost in a run-off earlier this year; Karen Martin of the Spartanburg Tea Party; Talbert Black Jr., founder of the Palmetto Liberty PAC and the state director for the Campaign for Liberty; and several other leaders from the state's Republican Liberty Caucus.