Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky waves to the crowd of supporters during the kickoff of his presidential campaign April 7. (Michael B. Thomas / AFP/Getty Images)

By Seema Mehta
April 7, 2015

Sen. Rand Paul’s jump into the 2016 presidential contest underscored the challenges ahead for the Kentucky Republican as he tries to move beyond his libertarian niche to find a foothold in the campaign for the White House.

In the months-long unofficial part of his campaign, Paul has burnished his image as an unusual candidate for his party, visiting inner cities and college campuses and talking about issues such as reducing penalties for drug use as he courts the young and minority voters. But to succeed Paul will have to shore up his appeal among the Republican base of older white voters — a dual need that carries the risk of forcing him into a more conventional posture.

Already his efforts have raised the question of whether he is canting his long-held views to feed his presidential ambition — and whether that will attract more supporters or fewer.

Sen. Rand Paul made it official Tuesday morning, announcing on his campaign website that he is running for president, becoming the second major GOP candidate to formalize his plans to seek the White House in 2016.

Much of the early attention he has received, particularly from voters who usually spurn Republicans, stemmed from his noninterventionist foreign policy positions and opposition to defense spending.

But he recently advocated a broad, $190-billion expansion of the Defense Department budget and has planned a South Carolina campaign visit this week that will feature an aircraft carrier as his backdrop.

He attempted to appeal to both his target audience and traditional Republicans on Tuesday with an announcement that emphasized his outsider credentials — he has been a practicing eye surgeon — and de-emphasized his term as senator. He also called for congressional term limits and broad changes to the way Washington operates.

“I have a vision for America,” he told hundreds of supporters. “I want to be part of a return to prosperity … a return to a government restrained by the Constitution, a return to privacy, opportunity, liberty.”

Although he criticized the Obama administration’s spending, he did not spare criticism of his own party.

“Too often when Republicans have won, we have squandered our opportunity by becoming part of the Washington machine,” he said. “That is not who I am.”

The staging of Paul’s announcement reflected his effort to expand the Republican base: introducing him were former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. and the Rev. Jerry Stephenson, who are both African American; Kentucky state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Latino; and a young University of Kentucky student, Lauren Bosler.

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