William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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RAND PAUL IN THE MIDEAST – AT 11:34 A.M. ET:  This political news slipped by under the radar.  Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, and a senator from Kentucky, recently announced his interest in running for president in 2016.  It wasn't a formal announcement, but close.

Then Rand Paul, accompanied by a number of evangelical Christians and some Jewish leaders, headed off to Israel, where he is now.  Apparently, he realized that to run for president he had to shake off the impression that he is anti-Israel.  His father certainly has been.  The trip itself indicates how serious he is about running.  This is a campaign trip, and several of the evangelicals have acknowledged in press interviews that they know it is.

Paul made no ringing declarations in Israel.  Frankly, he did appear a bit aloof, although not hostile.  He has called repeatedly for an end to foreign aid, including aid to Israel, and didn't change his position.  He did express understanding of Israel's security needs.  Rand Paul is not, frankly, the most exciting guy in the world.  He could have done more with this trip.

I wish he wouldn't run.  He will simply complicate the Republican task in 2016.  Paul is less a Republican than a libertarian, and he's dragged down by the heavy controversies that still surround his father, including accusations that his father had published racist material in earlier years.  In addition, as noted, he hasn't set any rooms on fire.  But he can take votes away from better candidates who have a real shot at being elected.  He could, under certain statistical circumstances, even win the nomination, if enough of the Paulists come out to vote.  His father, who contended for the GOP nomination last year, never got out of the basement in terms of vote totals.

The 2016 campaign is, in effect, already underway, and Rand Paul's trip proves it.  So do Marco Rubio's frequent speaking engagements, and the very active debut of new Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.  Chris Christie is already on the cover of TIME, although it's a sinister photo that raises questions of ethnic slurs.  (Christie's mother is of Italian ancestry.)  South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was widely photographed several days ago as she said goodbye to her reservist husband, who is being deployed overseas. 

We have to play to win.  I think we can win solidly if Hillary is not the candidate on the other side.  If she is, it will be a fight, but that could also be won, although it would mean taking on almost the entire media.

January 12, 2013