As Representative Ron Paul, a 76-year-old Texan, slows down his presidential campaign, libertarians are looking for their next champion. But their search will be short.
Over the past two years, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the candidate’s charismatic son, has established himself as a favorite of his father’s followers and a rising GOP star.
“His future is as bright as he wants it to be,” says Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Paul’s upper-chamber mentor. “He is already one of the smartest and most courageous senators, and fearless in defending property rights and fighting for a balanced-budget amendment.”
Should Mitt Romney stumble, the buzz among Paul watchers is that Senator Paul will run for the White House in 2016, looking to build upon his father’s success.
“Rand is showing all the signs of running,” says Brian Doherty, a senior editor at Reason and author of Ron Paul’s Revolution. “Even if Romney wins in 2012, but he disappoints libertarians, [Paul] may think about a primary challenge. He knows that he’s well positioned for that.”
Over the weekend, Senator Paul spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s spring meeting in Waukee, Iowa, a state where his father had one of his best showings this cycle. His message there was ecumenical, and he attempted to connect as a fellow conservative, regardless of policy differences.
“I know not everybody here voted for my dad, but what I will say from a personal perspective is, don’t look at the Ron Paul people or the Rand Paul people as your enemy,” Senator Paul told a small gathering before the event, according to the Des Moines Register.
Drew Ivers, an Iowa Republican who served as Ron Paul’s state chairman, tells National Review Online that libertarian activists are eager to work with Senator Paul, should he decide to enter the presidential fray.
“The Ron Paul–Rand Paul message of limited government is growing, especially as the economic downturn becomes more and more evident,” Ivers says. “[Rand] is a capable messenger and, in some ways, a better one than his father, since he relates well with people at the personal level.”
Sources close to the Paul family emphasize that the ophthalmologist from Bowling Green, Ky., is focused on legislating, but they acknowledge that the younger Paul is determined to be a major force in national debates. A 2016 presidential bid, you can be certain, is not out of the question.
“If President Obama is reelected, which I think is very doubtful, you are going to see a tremendous hunger for a constitution-based leader to emerge,” says Fritz Wenzel, a top adviser to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. “Rand Paul brings everything that Ron Paul brought to the table but with the perspective of a whole new generation. I think that could be a perfect vehicle for a 2016 run, and at this point, the only thing he needs to do is to get more well known.”