Rand Paul stands alone at events

BY KRISTEN EAST | APRIL 02, 2015 5:00 AM

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When Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., graces the University of Iowa campus with his presence next week, he will stand alone, no other politicians present to take away the spotlight. The visit is expected to come as part of or in tandem a presidential-campaign announcement. 

This is, however, how Iowans usually see the liberty-minded Republican, working rooms of supporters, activists, and like-minded individuals. These are settings that Paul can control: He knows the audience, and he’s the only speaker.

Paul has seemingly favored this type of venue when visiting Iowa over the past two years, avoiding events, forums, and lectures where other potential presidential contenders may be present.

This year alone, Paul has declined invitations to the Iowa Freedom Summit and Iowa Agriculture Summit, events in which most Republicans considering running were present. And as the Iowa Republican Party last week announced details for its annual Lincoln Dinner, Paul was not one of the nine candidates who had confirmed his presence.

Though political surveyors and activists say there likely isn’t reason to worry. The format of his appearances may be intentional, but even if they aren’t, Paul is reaching a particular block of Republicans.

David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, suggested that Paul may not be trying to compete with other would-be candidates for “base” voters.

“Instead, he seems to be trying to reach out to more libertarian and younger voters,” he said. “So, perhaps he figures he’s better off spending his time trying to find these new voters rather than attending cattle shows in front of audiences of people who are already unlikely to ever vote for him.”

The conservative advocacy group Citizens United and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, put together the Iowa Freedom Summit, and Iowa entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter hosted the Iowa Ag Summit. Both events drew large numbers of social conservatives who lambasted the likes of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Matthew Evans, the Iowa head of Young Americans for Liberty, said he believes the youth vote will be an important component of Paul’s campaign, and that may be one reason for the types of events he attends.

“When he does make appearances here [in Iowa], they’re generally well-attended by younger folks,” he said. “That’s great to see from my perspective as a youth leader. He’s taking on a new brand for the Republican Party, and part of that is by supporting ideas that aren’t typically supported by Republican figures.”

Evans said that Paul usually talk about such things as technology and privacy, topics that don’t resonate with older voters.

Paul was in the state quite a bit last year campaigning for Iowans running for Congress. He stumped with Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who unsuccessfully ran for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District and campaigned with Sen. Joni Ernst at the UI.

Cindy Golding, who chairs the Linn County Republican Party, said active Republicans “have had multiple opportunities to meet the senator,” specifically citing his campaigning during the midterm election cycle.

“I don’t see the absence from those events harming Sen. Paul’s reputation or popularity,” she said. “If he is serious about running for president, we all will have many chances to see him in the near future.”

Tim Hagle, a UI associate professor of political science, said it’s a good sign that Paul is at least showing up in Iowa, and the types of events aren’t as important.

“As long as a candidate is showing up somewhere in Iowa we might be able to overlook the person not attending certain multi-candidate events at this stage in the race,” he said.

Though he noted that it’s good to see how someone holds her or his composure in a multi-candidate venue.

“It might be good to see Rand Paul in a multi-candidate event, but the value of the event likely varies,” he said. “If it’s just a matter of coming in and giving a fairly standard speech, then it may not matter as much whether it’s done in a multi-candidate event or not. On the other hand, it can be good to see the person’s ability to give a speech to different types of crowds.”

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