The famed Kentucky Derby will soon be upon us. As usual, it will be a colorful and fast race that could be won by a favorite or by an against-all-odds dark horse. It's ironic that the race is held in the same state in which U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, now a candidate for the presidency, resides.
Just as the experts who handicap horse racing can sometimes be misled by the strength of bloodlines or a horse's inexperience, political pundits are often apt to make similar mistakes. For the record, this columnist takes Paul as a serious candidate who could come charging out of gate and gain ground throughout the primary season.
Sen. Paul comes from a lineage that causes many to believe him to be a "show horse," but one who won't be a winner. That's in large part because he is the son of longtime congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul.
The senior Paul captured the hearts and minds of many a libertarian in his quest for the White House. His somewhat quirky mannerisms (which were in fact refreshing), as well as his penchant for taking winning positions so far as to appear eccentric, left Paul with a devoted following but no real chance of ever winning his party's nomination.
But with the Pauls, as with many families, the son is more polished than the father, and thus Rand is a more competitive candidate, even before he leaves the political gates.
Yes, Rand Paul holds many of the same core views as his dad. Basically, he takes the positon that whenever and wherever possible, government should get out of our lives. That fundamental concept appealed to many a Republican who heard Ron Paul in the early minutes of several presidential debates. It was only later in those debates that the senior Paul would lose many potential GOP voters by taking his positions to a level that most of them weren't ready for.
But times have changed radically in just a few years. Most likely, Republican caucus and primary voters really do feel that the march to put government in every aspect of our existence has become more of a mad dash. And Rand Paul's campaign has decided to harness that sentiment with the simple message of getting Washington D.C. out of our lives.
This message gives Paul a distinct advantage over many of his GOP competitors, whose only identifiable message is that of being anti-Barack Obama. And theirs is a position that will certainly not be in short supply in the 2016 presidential contest.
Sen. Paul is already having to explain his more blunt positions from years past, most notably a stand he took in 2007. It was then that he said Iran was not any particular danger to the U.S. But as he has aptly noted, a great deal has changed in eight years, including his view of the threat posed by Iran.
Paul will be labeled by pundits as an isolationist who opposes most foreign aid and wants the U.S. involved in as few international conflicts as possible. Well here is a news flash for those pundits: The vast majority of likely GOP voters agree with Paul's sentiments.
But his message of less government won't by itself turn a dark horse into a winner. What might do so is the fact that he has learned to become a polished and more realistic version of what his father bravely presented to voters in years past. The younger Paul says he supports a strong military, believes that the U.S. must confront Iran and not cave to its leaders and offers a less strident version of his vision of limited government than he once did.
And his secret weapon has been his ability to attract mainstream GOP leaders and political consultants to his effort. What is rarely reported has been his ability to gain acceptance among his fellow Republican members of the Senate, who were skeptical when he was sworn in, but who now find him a likeable and productive member.
Yes, Rand Paul is still a dark horse. But don't be shocked if this entry from Kentucky doesn't upend the other political horses in the 2016 race for the GOP presidential nomination.