Paul launches presidential bid with pledge 'to take US back'
Rand Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, launched his presidential campaign yesterday with an unorthodox libertarian message intended to appeal beyond traditional conservatives and carry him to victory in a crowded field.
Speaking before a cheering crowd in his home state, the 52-year-old senator had harsh words for Republicans and Democrats as he promised to "defeat the Washington machine".
"I have a message, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words," he told supporters.
"We have come to take our country back."
Mr Paul is only the second Republican contender to announce his presidential ambitions after Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, but up to a dozen other candidates are likely to join the race in the coming weeks, including Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents. The winner of the Republican primary is likely to be pitted against the Democrats' Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
The Kentucky senator is gambling that he can stand out from his rivals with a political platform that appeals to the young and to ethnic minorities and that mixes traditional conservative positions with some more progressive stances.
"The message of liberty, opportunity and justice is for all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform or overalls, whether you're white or black, rich or poor," Mr Paul said.
While he staunchly supports gun rights and opposes abortion, Mr Paul is also wary of US military interventions abroad and has campaigned for a loosening of drug laws and reforms to America's often draconian prison system.
He is supported by legions of young libertarian conservatives, who swarm to his political events in bright red T-shirts emblazoned with the senator's silhouette and the words "Stand with Rand".
Mr Paul stood onstage at a Louisville hotel before a backdrop of voters from all ages and races, a representation of the coalition that he hopes to build. Although elected to the Senate in 2010 on a wave of Tea Party enthusiasm, Mr Paul has worked hard to court leaders in the Republican establishment and shown himself willing to balance libertarian ideology with political pragmatism.
But he is treated with suspicion and sometimes outright contempt by military hawks inside the Republican party, who see him as an isolationist who could endanger America's national security.
Some of Mr Paul's detractors have said openly that Mrs Clinton, known for her own hawkish instincts, would do a better job as commander-in-chief of the world's most powerful military.
Mr Paul attempted to counter that criticism at his campaign launch, saying he was clear-eyed that "the enemy is radical Islam" and promising to "do whatever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind".
But in contrast to many of his Republican rivals, Mr Paul said he believed in negotiating with Iran and warned against perpetual US involvement in overseas conflicts.
"Our goal always should be and always is peace, not war," he said. He also spoke out against US mass surveillance programmes, waving his mobile in the air and declaring that citizens' phone records were "none of (the government's) damn business".
Mr Paul was an ophthalmologist before running for office and spent part of last summer in Guatemala performing pro bono eye operations.
But he is not a newcomer to the occasionally brutal world of Republican intraparty politics.
His father, Ron Paul, was a Republican congressman who infuriated party leaders with his strict devotion to libertarian ideals.
The elder Mr Paul ran for president in 2008 and 2012 but was unable to extend his appeal beyond a hardcore of libertarian conservatives.
His son is seen as a more pragmatic and more electable candidate, who can appeal to his father's base but also to more mainstream Republican voters. (© Daily Telegraph, London)