SAN FRANCISCO — Rand Paul is riding high. He pocketed a straw poll win at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. He won another straw poll in New Hampshire. And, perhaps most significant, he tops the 2016 Republican field in an early CNN/ORC International poll.
“I don’t know whether it’s good luck or it’s bad luck,” the Kentucky Republican told National Journal. “It makes you more of a target, I guess.”
“I tell people it’s better than being last,” he joked in an interview in the lobby of the Olympic Club in downtown San Francisco. As he leaned back in his chair, his suit pants revealed more of his brown, cowboy-style leather boots. “It’s better than not being noticed.”
There is little chance of that. His growing political perch brings added attention and scrutiny to his every utterance.
Paul will use that presidential-sized platform on Wednesday to speak out at UC Berkeley against the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance practices. While in the Bay Area, he has a series of closed-door meetings, including with prospective donors.
The NSA is one of the issues Paul hopes to use to woo younger voters to the Republican fold in 2016 — one of his top political priorities. Paul said his goal is to send a message to students “that there are people in the Republican Party who do want to defend your privacy.”
“I think they, like me, don’t understand why the government would have access to their [phone] records,” Paul said.
Topping a national presidential poll is rarefied air for any politician, particularly a first-term senator. It’s a position of prominence that Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul, never achieved in his multiple presidential bids. Not that the younger Paul is rubbing it in. “I haven’t talked to him yet,” he said. “I’ve been travelling.”
Establishment Republicans often dismissed the elder Paul as too far out of line with the GOP mainstream on foreign policy (among other issues) to ever be the party’s nominee. It’s a criticism that the younger Paul appears eager to tackle.
Paul took a veiled swipe at Sen. Ted Cruz — the other conservative seen atop the potential GOP 2016 field — in a sharply worded op-ed that accused rivals of wrongly wrapping their views in with Reagan’s legacy, and he suggested his non-interventionist policies are in the historical mainstream.
Paul attributed criticism of his positions to his recent political successes. “You become a target where people want to characterize who you are, and I’m not really content with letting others characterize who I am,” he said. “Because your opponents generally don’t characterize you in a favorable fashion.”
So how would Paul handle a newly aggressive Russia? The senator who joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year called Tuesday for trade sanctions against Moscow for its incursion into Crimea. “I think if Putin and Russia act like a rogue nation, they should be isolated,” Paul said.
But he would not say whether that meant stronger or greater sanctions than President Obama has proposed. “I don’t know if I can necessarily characterize it that way,” he said.
“What I would say is that Crimea gets 80 percent of their water, their electricity, and gas from the part of Ukraine that is above them. They’re at risk. [Putin] has a great deal of risk of losing electricity, gas, and water to the section that he’s annexed,” Paul said. He also would not say if that water and power should be shut off. “Ukraine has to make that decision,” he said.
Paul did say he believes Putin “miscalculates” his odds of success. The senator said that by taking the typically Russia-supporting Crimean voters of out the Ukrainian electorate Putin is actually “pushing Ukraine into the West, and so I think he’s cutting off his nose to spite his face.”
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The national polls, once again, tell very different stories: Clinton leads by just one point in the IBD, Rasmussen, and LA Times tracking polls, while she shows a commanding 12 point lead in the ABC news poll and a smaller but sizable five point lead in the CNN poll. The Republican Remington Research Group released a slew of polls showing Trump up in Ohio, Nevada, and North Carolina, a tie in Florida, and Clinton leads in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia. However, an independent Siena poll shows Clinton up 7 in North Carolina, while a Monmouth poll shows Trump up one in Arizona
Since the release of the Access Hollywood tape, on which Donald Trump boasted of sexually assaulting women, "Senate Republicans have seen their fortunes dip, particularly in states like Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada and Pennsylvania," where Hillary Clinton now leads. Jennifer Duffy writes that she now expects Democrats to gain five to seven seats—enough to regain control of the chamber.
"Of the Senate seats in the Toss Up column, Trump only leads in Indiana and Missouri where both Republicans are running a few points behind him. ... History shows that races in the Toss Up column never split down the middle; one party tends to win the lion’s share of them."
"Some Republicans are running so far away from their party’s nominee that they are threatening to sue TV stations for running ads that suggest they support Donald Trump. Just two weeks before Election Day, five Republicans―Reps. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), David Jolly (R-Fla.), John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican running for an open seat that’s currently occupied by his brother―contend that certain commercials paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee provide false or misleading information by connecting them to the GOP nominee. Trump is so terrible, these Republicans are essentially arguing, that tying them to him amounts to defamation."
Former Illinois GOP Congressman Aaron Schock "recently agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for making an excessive solicitation for a super PAC that was active in his home state of Illinois four years ago." Schock resigned from Congress after a story about his Downton Abbey-themed congressional office raised questions about how he was using taxpayer dollars.