Paul was one of three potential 2016 presidential aspirants who addressed the “Freedom Summit.” But while Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee mainly dished out partisan red meat barbs and one-liners that easily catered to the audience, Paul challenged the party’s image at the same time he pledged not to dilute its core principles

“If you want to be consistent, if you want to grow the movement, we cannot be the party of fat cats, rich people and Wall Street,” he said. “There’s always a bigger working class than an owner’s class. I’m not against the owner’s class but I want to tell the workers on America that we’re on their side.”…

“Cruz is making an introduction to New Hampshire voters, Huck a reintroduction. Rand’s relationship goes deeper, he is at a different stage in the process,” said the strategist.

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It is through this message, Paul says, that Republicans can find an opening with a constituency that has largely voted as a bloc for Democrats since the civil rights era. Some of this push is also reactive: Paul has previously come under fire for making controversial comments about the Civil Rights Act, and Democrats think he is extremely vulnerable on racial issues. But that doesn’t mean Paul’s views are insincere or will have no impact on GOP thinking longer-term.

“I truly do care about the injustice and what it’s done to voting,” Paul told me when we met Friday at a pizza place in downtown Manchester. “Everyone’s talking about voter ID. Voter ID is one-one thousandths of the problem compared to felony disenfranchisement. I think there’s 150,000 people in Kentucky who can’t vote because of a felony conviction. Probably half or more are black.”…

I asked Paul about the time Christie called his foreign policy “dangerous” and when former U.S. ambassador to the U.N John Bolton described Republicans like Paul as “unfit to serve.” (Both men, particularly Christie, harbor presidential ambitions of their own.)

“The people who are saying that are the dangerous people,” Paul said. “The people who wake up at night thinking of which new country they want to bomb, which new country they want to be involved in, they don’t like restraint. They don’t like reluctance to go to war. They really wouldn’t like Ronald Reagan if they read anything he wrote or were introduced to it.”

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“I’ve repeatedly voted for sanctions against Iran. And I think all options should be on the table to prevent them from having nuclear weapons,” Paul said on “This Week” Sunday. But he said those who oppose the idea of containment — or living with an Iran with nuclear weapons — ignore that such an outcome has been necessary in the past.

“They said containment will never ever, ever be our policy,” Paul said of those who oppose Iran getting nuclear weapons at any cost. “We woke up one day and Pakistan had nuclear weapons. If that would have been our policy toward Pakistan, we would be at war with Pakistan. We woke up one day and China had nuclear weapons. We woke up one day and Russia had them.”

“The people who say ‘by golly, we will never stand for that,’ they are voting for war,” he added.

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Former Rep. Ron Paul said Friday he was happy that his son, Sen. Rand Paul, opposed recent legislation that would send financial assistance to Ukraine.

“Congress just last week, they rushed to pass this guaranteed loan of a billion dollars, which is really just opening up the door for endless loans,” the Texas Republican said. “There were two senators who voted against it, and I’m very pleased my son voted against it–not that I had any doubts, I tell ya.”…

Rand Paul hasn’t been quite as strident about staying out of the Ukraine situation as his father. In fact, he argued last month that President Obama was failing to project Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” policy, and he called for the United States to be even more aggressive on its diplomatic efforts relating to Russia.

“It is our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia’s latest aggression,” he wrote in an opinion piece.

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If I were Adelson, and I considered it desperately important to keep one of America’s major parties closer to my hawkishly pro-Israel views, I would simply give a Ted Cruz-aligned super PAC $200 million at the start of the next election and pledge to give it $200 million more should that money be needed. Let Cruz’s money advantage make him the more attractive “populist Tea Party alternative” to the GOP’s establishment candidates. Save a few hundred million more and dangle it in front of every other GOP aspirant but Paul and watch the field unify in their opposition to the Kentucky senator and his libertarian policies. Just make it rain and watch GOP polls contort themselves…

Money can make an unflattering campaign story: “Paul lagging in funds.” And money can amplify that story: Conservatives doubting Paul can overcome money hurdles.

Perhaps the Paul camp would welcome such a unified opposition. After all, it would grant his us-vs-them fundraising campaigns quite a bit of legitimacy. Surely, his grassroots-savvy team could light a few money-bomb campaigns with that. But does even Paul believe that a presidential campaign can run on $100 checks sent in by hepped-up liberty advocates?

To win, Paul and his anti-interventionist cadres must develop a fundraising apparatus as well-organized, as active, and as deep-pocketed as the one he faces. Until the media is buzzing about “Paul bundlers,” “Paul angels,” and “Paul-billionaires,” I wouldn’t bet on him winning the GOP nomination.

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That is just one example of the balancing act Mr. Paul is attempting as he prepares for a likely White House bid in 2016. Trying to leap from tea-party firebrand to GOP standard-bearer, the freshman senator is courting the party leaders and fundraisers crucial to a national campaign, while mostly keeping faith with the libertarian base that made him a Republican Party phenom.

A test comes on April 25, when Spencer Zwick, the national finance chairman for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns, is slated to introduce top donors in Boston to Mr. Paul. While some fundraisers say Mr. Paul’s resistance to the use of military force abroad disqualifies him from leading the GOP, others are intrigued by his efforts to grow the party by reaching out to young and minority audiences…

“We’re building a winning coalition, and we want the Republican Party to see that,” said Doug Stafford, one of Mr. Paul’s top political advisers…

His noninterventionist posture makes Mr. Paul too extreme for many GOP rainmakers. “His name doesn’t even come up in my circles,” said Florida real-estate developer Mel Sembler, a veteran fundraiser trying to draft former Gov. Jeb Bush for 2016. “Sen. Paul is pretty isolationist. We’re a leader in the world, and we shouldn’t abandon that philosophy.”

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Cruz, who came to the Senate two years after Paul, appears to be muscling him out of first place in Tea Partiers’ hearts. Where Paul calls himself a “libertarian Republican,” Cruz touts his full-spectrum conservatism on fiscal, social, and foreign policy. Cruz aggressively championed the push to defund Obamacare that helped lead to last fall’s government shutdown (Paul also backed it, but tepidly), an act that made him a pariah in Washington but a hero to the grassroots. Paul got lots of attention for staging a 13-hour filibuster on the Obama Administration’s use of drones last March; Cruz transparently copied the tactic with an even longer speech on Obamacare in September…

Cruz, on the other hand, told the crowd only what he knew it wanted to hear. His speech, unlike Paul’s, was infused with personality, beginning with cute stories about his young daughters. Of his defiant five-year-old, Caroline, who likes to play a game she calls “attack the Daddy,” he mused that she must be taking her cues from Senate Republican leadership.

Cruz, like Paul, made a populist appeal: “The rich and powerful, those who walk the corridors of power, are getting fat and happy” under the current administration, he said. At one point, someone in the crowd yelled, “Thank you!” And when he finished with a defiant promise to “repeal every single word of Obamacare,” the crowd was on its feet.

In interviews with a dozen audience members, I could find only one who preferred Paul to Cruz.

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Citing the work of Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Balz wrote: “The most conservative wing generally gets the most attention, but the voters who count most in the GOP nomination process are those who say they are ‘somewhat conservative.’ This is the largest group nationally and is consistently a big presence in all the states, unlike some of the other factions. ‘They are not very vocal but they form the bedrock base of the Republican Party,’ Olsen writes. ‘They also have a significant distinction: they always back the winner.’”

These “bedrock” voters don’t show up at straw polls. They don’t wave signs or show up at rallies. They do, however, vote. And, while much has been made of the Tea Party overpowering the establishment in congressional primaries, it’s important to remember that presidential primaries bring out a much bigger and more diverse electorate. Paul’s association with his father and the libertarian movement are a likely red flag to these more traditional voters.

I get why the media loves covering Rand Paul. He’s actively challenging GOP orthodoxy. He likes talking to reporters. He’s multi-dimensional. But, that doesn’t automatically translate into “frontrunner” status. He has some significant hurdles he’ll need to climb before then. He’s like a house with instant curb appeal, but we don’t know if the house is sturdy until we start poking around at the infrastructure. At the end of the day, Rand Paul’s biggest challenge won’t be convincing people he can expand the base of the party. It will be in convincing the traditional and establishment Republican base of the party that he is truly presidential material.

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