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Rand Paul Tests Political Influence

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Fresh off the national campaign trail, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is testing the influence of his unique political brand with a series of Congressional endorsements.

Many Kentucky political observers expect Paul to put his experience in the 2012 presidential race campaigning for his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), to use in 2016. Some even predict the tea-party-affiliated Senator will run for president.

But for now, at least, Paul is hoping his image as a libertarian outsider can boost his preferred candidates in House and Senate primaries across the country and help reshape the GOP on Capitol Hill.

“There’s so much inertia up here, we’d like to see people come up who’d actually try to change the system,” Paul said during a recent interview in his Senate office. “I think if we don’t shake off that inertia — you know, everything is mandatory spending, everything has a permanence up here. It takes someone who is somewhat fearless and aggressive to try and change the system.”

But Paul has not limited his endorsements to outsider candidates.

The Kentucky freshman has given his blessing to Florida Senate GOP frontrunner Rep. Connie Mack IV — who is staunchly entrenched in the establishment — as well as to tea party darling Ted Cruz, who is running in Texas’ May 29 Senate primary. Paul hasn’t always picked winners, having backed losing Nebraska GOP Senate candidate Don Stenberg and New Mexico Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who ultimately dropped out of the Senate race in the Land of Enchantment. Paul has since endorsed long-shot candidate Greg Sowards in the New Mexico primary.

But the Senator insists that all of his endorsees share certain traits, including support for a smaller government that adheres more closely to the Constitution. In today’s Kentucky GOP primaries, Paul helped recruit open 4th district candidate Thomas Massie, the tea-party-affiliated Lewis County judge-executive.

The Senator recently cut a television ad for Massie, who has been embroiled in a nasty battle against two candidates backed by the local party establishment, including the retiring incumbent. The outcome of this House primary could affect Paul’s influence going forward.

“I think people associate me with the tea party; they associate me with having great concern with the debt; having tried to be a leader in the balanced budget movement here. I think that is helpful,” Paul said. “We try to choose races where we think there’s a clear distinction between establishment moderate and what we consider to be a more constitutional conservative.”

Paul, who rocketed to national prominence after thumping the establishment-backed candidate in the 2010 primary, has hewed a careful path in his first 16 months in the Senate. Even as he votes like the libertarian upstart he campaigned as two years ago, often going against the general GOP consensus position on Capitol Hill, he has managed to earn and maintain the respect of his veteran, more establishment-minded colleagues.

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