U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was hailed in Iowa Saturday as an emerging party player for his government-shrinking, deficit-cutting message _ nearly four years after his father championed similar themes but was excluded from a Republican presidential forum because of his poor showing in the polls.
The Kentucky senator's message sounded much like the one delivered by his father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, whose low-budget presidential campaign ended with a fifth place showing in the 2008 caucuses. On Saturday, the younger Paul delivered the keynote speech at an Iowa Republican Party event dubbed "Night of the Rising Stars."
The change speaks volumes about the respect now given to the Pauls and the Republican Party's acceptance of much of the father and son's message.
"It is a message that the father started out with some years ago and I think it is resonating more today than it did four years ago," said former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Stewart Iverson. "People are understanding the spending side of it better than they did four years ago."
Rand Paul, a leader of the national Tea Party movement, was elected to the Senate in November.
In a speech to Iowa party activists and office holders, Rand Paul said Republicans should never compromise on their core beliefs. He likened such deal-making to the complicity that allowed slavery to exist.
Rand Paul said the nation faces a "day of fiscal reckoning" with its deficit, the prospect of inflation and more than $1 trillion in U.S. debt owned by China and Japan.
"It's not enough just to be a Republican," Paul told the crowd. "It's not enough just for the Republican parties to exist. Political parties are empty vessels unless we imbue them with values. We have to stand for something, and we have to mean it."
Earlier in the day, Paul lashed out at President Barack Obama by accusing him overseeing "the most anti-business administration we've ever had," and he warned that government-sponsored clean energy programs would only ship jobs to China, which manufactures parts for many of the of the industry's wind turbines.
Ed Failor Jr., the president of conservative group Iowans for Tax Relief, said his group excluded Ron Paul from the June 2007 forum because of Paul's status in national polls rather than his political beliefs. Other candidates who finished far behind Paul in the caucuses, including Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter, were included in the event, along with better known politicians such as Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
Failor, whose group is among the most powerful in Iowa Republican politics, said he sees differences between the Pauls.
"Rand Paul is a little bit more mainstream than what Ron Paul was perceived," Failor said.
Failor said Rand Paul was smart to attend the Iowa events and immerse himself in Republican politics as caucus campaigning begins in earnest. Paul hasn't ruled out running for president, saying he thinks either he or his father will seek the GOP nomination.
Failor discounted the possibility that Rand Paul would run for president, since he was only elected to the Senate five months ago. But he said he thinks Paul might be looking ahead to 2016.
"I don't think there's any chance he could find himself a candidate in this election cycle, but it's sure not a bad strategy to be a part of the discussion in the 2012 cycle if it's something you might pursue down the road," Failor said. "A lot of people come to Iowa who don't intend to run in this cycle."
Veteran Republican strategist Bob Haus said Ron and Rand Paul offer a message that resonates with an increasingly conservative party.
"The Pauls, father and son, have contributed to the infusion of new blood into the Republican Party," Haus said.
On Saturday, Paul said the Obama administration's airstrikes on Libya without Congressional approval "sets a dangerous precedent" for future chief executives.
"You don't want to have one person have the ultimate person to power to commit a nation to war," Paul said. "It's important. This is a significant precedent, and a bad one, that says a president can just go to war without any vote from Congress."
Ryan Rhodes, a founder of the tea party movement in Iowa, said he appreciated the state party's willingness to bring a star of the tea party to the state. He hopes Paul's visit is an indication that party leaders who keep the focus on budget cutting and smaller government initiatives.
Matt Strawn, the Iowa GOP chairman, seemed to embrace that idea, saying Paul "represents the new energy of Republicans in Washington."
"His dedication to the cause of limited government not only resonated with the voters of Kentucky, but catapulted him onto the national stage," said Strawn. "Iowa Republicans will be interested to hear his solutions to seriously address the national debt and stop the growth of government."
Associated Press writer Mike Glover contributed to this report.