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Rand Paul Doubles Down on Wonky

Paul thanked volunteers and stuck to a wonky script on Monday. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

WAUKEE, Iowa — Sen. Rand Paul has employed a close-to-the-bone strategy for the Iowa caucuses, relying on the enthusiasm of student volunteers to get out the vote and, down to the wire, going all in on wonky policy to make his case.  

"You guys have made a million phone calls for me and I really appreciate it," he told a rowdy crowd at the Hy-Vee Market Grille here Monday.    

With just a few hours before the Hawkeye State's voters head to the first-in-the-nation caucuses, he headed to the Hy-Vee with Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and largely eschewed GOP talking points in favor of his own libertarian and sometime bipartisan agenda.  

"Sen. Grassley and I have worked together on several pieces of legislation, and I think Sen. Grassley is exceptional in the sense that he's not just sort of a cookie-cutter brand of whatever it means to be a conservative," Paul said. He cited bipartisan issues he and Grassley have worked on, including protecting whistleblowers and addressing sexual assault.  

Then Paul went deeper into the policy weeds, calling out what he considers overreach by the EPA for its Waters of the United States regulatory program. Saying he would have voted for the Clean Water Act in the 1970s — an extraordinary statement from a libertarian — Paul said the EPA's definition of what constitutes a waterway, and is therefore subject to regulation, goes too far.  

It's an important issue being debated at high levels in Washington and across the country. As a motivating campaign issue, it's unclear how much it resonates. But Paul was undaunted, and, after wrapping up his speech fairly quickly, told his supporters something one hears a lot in Iowa these days: "Tonight we're going to surprise a lot of people."

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