Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul will headline an annual Republican event in Iowa next month, further signaling his interest in a 2016 presidential bid.

The announcement caps several high-profile weeks for Paul. On Saturday, he narrowly won the Conservative Political Action Committee straw poll, just after he delivered a rousing speech to the annual confab. Earlier this month, Paul filibustered for 13 hours John O. Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA…

The Iowa Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner is one of its top fundraisers of the year. It’s a platform for budding White House contenders to warm up potential supporters in the first presidential caucus state, even a full two years before candidates will begin launching their campaigns.

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“With the Paul faction in complete control of the state party, they’re doubling down hard by having him headline the highest profile dinner of the season,” said Dave Kochel, who ran Mitt Romney’s 2012 Iowa campaign. “It’s definitely going to pressure other hopefuls to get a foothold in Iowa on an earlier timetable.”

The “Rand as rabbit” narrative — first one out of the gates and trying to open a big lead early on — will force the hand of other candidates who a) don’t want to cede conservatives in Iowa to Paul and b) don’t want to give up on the idea of Iowa as their springboard to the top tier…

What Rand Paul is doing is staking a very early claim to Iowa, a state where — thanks to his father’s two presidential campaigns — he has a very strong case to make. That willingness to sprint out of the 2016 gates with only a patina of “I can’t believe this is starting so early” jibes with his overall approach to politics as typified by his 13-hour filibuster earlier this month.

And it means that he is a force that everyone running for president has to contend with — in ways both large and small.

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Paul starts with a built-in base of libertarians that comprises at least 10 percent of the GOP electorate, and his boosters have made tremendous inroads in state parties around the country.

They may be a minority, but they are a devoted one. Paul supporters will drive farther and work harder than any other 2016 contender’s core backers. They also tend to be younger and engaged on social media and the blogosphere in ways that people who support someone of the older generation like, say, Jeb Bush are not.

His challenge is to cultivate those loyal to his father while at the same time broadening his appeal beyond libertarians. Inside the so-called liberty movement, there’s some frustration with the younger Paul for endorsing Mitt Romney last year during the Texas Republican convention — which critics believe cost the elder Paul delegates. Some also worry about nepotism in a movement that prizes merit.

But the drone filibuster shored up most of the Paul loyalists, who had gone a bit wobbly lately.

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First, the Kentucky senator is not going to suffer from a lack of media attention — a perceived slight that dedicated supporters of former Rep. Ron Paul often complained about during his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. After his 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA elevated him to the realm of conservative folk hero, Rand Paul delivered one of the best-received speeches at CPAC last weekend, and he has continued to generate headlines since then.

On Tuesday, his closely watched address on illegal immigration may have raised more questions than it answered about whether he supports a “pathway to citizenship,” but it left no doubt about his ability to shape the discourse on the major issues of the day. Thus, as the 2016 hype machine kicks into a higher gear in the coming months and years, it’s clear that the media will not go to sleep on Rand Paul…

“He has a great base of grassroots activists to build on, so I believe he will have an advantage coming into Iowa,” Vander Hart said. “I believe he has the ability to build a bridge with social conservatives that his dad could not quite accomplish in 2008 or 2012.”

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Sen. Rand Paul’s support for comprehensive immigration changes and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants could go a long way toward helping get a bill into law, overhaul advocates and his fellow Republicans believe.

It’s “a signal to the tea party and libertarian right that immigration reform is OK,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of left-leaning immigration advocacy group America’s Voice…

“I think it’s a very positive development for him to embrace a pathway to citizenship,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is one of the eight. “I think it will be good for the overall cause of immigration reform and good for the Republican Party…

Asked whether it may help the bill win support among House Republican members, [Jeff] Flake said, “It will make a difference, a big difference.”

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A candidate becomes a cinch to win the nomination if he wins the support of three of the five coalitions, a majority. However, two of the five may also suffice if no other candidate can build support outside his group. In 2012, for example, Mr. Romney often lacked the support of the religious right (who preferred Mr. Santorum), libertarians (who preferred Ron Paul) and Tea Party Republicans (who flirted with various alternatives). But he cleared the field of moderate candidates, and of other candidates who were acceptable to the G.O.P. establishment, and won the nomination as a result.

As for Rand Paul, he begins with one significant advantage: he is unlikely to be challenged for the loyalty of G.O.P.’s libertarian wing. This is not to say that there is nothing a libertarian might find fault with in Mr. Paul; his position on same-sex marriage, for instance, is unlikely to be deemed acceptable by left-leaning libertarians. But the types of libertarians who vote in the Republican primary are a more conservative group and are unlikely to find any better alternatives, particularly given that most politicians in both parties behave as though social issues, economic issues and foreign affairs all exist within a single ideological dimension…

Mr. Paul at least seems to demonstrate the interest in expanding his support beyond libertarian conservatives, something his father rarely did, and he will have three years to experiment with how to find the right formula. That doesn’t make him as likely a nominee as a more traditional candidate like Mr. Rubio, Jeb Bush or Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin. But his odds look better than the 20-to-1 numbers that some bookmakers have placed against him.

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Via Mediaite.