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Rand Paul: GOP party leader or destined for Ron Paul backwater? (+video)

Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster pushed him into the national political spotlight. But can he broaden his exposure and base of support beyond what his father, Rep. Ron Paul, was able to achieve?

By Staff writer / March 10, 2013

Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky is questioned by reporters as he leaves a GOP policy meeting on Capitol Hill Thursday. Paul is a freshman senator who challenged the Republican Party's establishment to win his seat in 2010 and now commands attention as a defender of limited government.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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President Obama made nice with a number of significant Republicans this past week, wining and dining them as part of his new charm offensive with the GOP.

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But the top political newsmaker of the week was not included in that group, nor was he invited to join any of the TV news blabfests Sunday – Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky.

Why is that, and what does it indicate about Senator Paul’s future?

Does he even have a future beyond the libertarian/tea party corner of American politics? That’s the place where his father, retired congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul (R) of Texas, drew an enthusiastic (although minority) following, making it tougher for more establishment candidates like Mitt Romney to win their party’s nomination and annoying fellow Republicans generally.

Some senior Republican senators did find the younger Mr. Paul annoying when he held up Senate business for 13 hours, filibustering the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the CIA. It was not personal, he had said, but a point of principle: The need for the Obama administration to concede that targeting suspected American terrorists on US soil without due process would be unconstitutional.

Sen. John McCain accused Paul of a “political stunt,” and Sen. Lindsey Graham called the junior senator from Kentucky “ill-informed.”

Perhaps, but it’s also worth noting that although Americans generally approve of drone attacks on terrorists abroad, most agree with Paul on his key point about targeting US citizens at home.

Given the low regard with which most of those polled hold Congress – Mr. Obama is dropping in some polls, too – does this indicate an opening for Paul among the younger, fresher generation of GOP politicians, some of whom spelled him during his filibuster?

People certainly paid attention to the maverick senator. More than a million tweets were sent during his filibuster – nearly as many as during Obama’s State of the Union address, Twitter reported on its government blog.

One in particular who paid attention is Mo Elleithee, faculty member at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute and a Democratic political consultant who worked for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008.

“The GOP's shellacking in 2012 has thrust a new generation of Republicans – including leaders like Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Govs. Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie – into the spotlight,” he writes in a column for CNN. “But it's Paul who has become the clearest voice of the new guard in the Republican Party. And he is effectively driving the entire GOP message right now.”

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