COLUMBIA, SC — Kentuckys U.S. senator of filibuster fame, Republican Rand Paul, will visit South Carolina on Friday to help the S.C. Republican Party raise money and meet with activists and state GOP donors.
A potential contender for his partys 2016 presidential nomination, Paul will headline two state GOP fundraisers in a lightning-round visit to the Souths earliest primary state his second this year, following a January stop in Charleston.
Pauls main focus will be talking to party activists about a vision for a bigger Republican Party, the senator told The State on Tuesday. Paul will decide in 2014 if he will run, he said, and in the meantime, he will continue to travel to early primary states with the understanding that Im interested, because in those states people pay attention.
Pauls visit also comes as the party works to pay back $300,000 in outstanding debt from lawsuits resulting from more than 200 candidates last year being removed from the ballot. The state party also is taking heat from a dissident Greenville County GOP that has scores to settle with the state partys former chairman over a fight for its top leadership position.
Pauls rising national profile is clearly a draw for the party, said Alex Stroman, state GOP director.
Whether it was his filibuster on drones ... or taking a stand on immigration, he is one of the leading conservative voices in the Senate, Stroman said.
Paul will visit with tea-party groups in Spartanburg and Columbia, and hell headline two state GOP fundraisers: An invitation-only, $1,500-a-ticket lunch in Greenville for 20 of the partys donors, and a 6 p.m. barbecue in Dixiana at the State Farmers Market.
Some tea-party activists, feeling sidelined in the party, see Pauls visit as the state partys way of connecting with them.
The Republican party seems to be controlled from the top down, said Mike Vasovski, an Aiken doctor and tea-party activist who worked on the 2012 presidential campaign of Pauls father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. There is very little venue for the people who consider themselves grassroots. Thats the frustration thats going on.
If the state GOP wants to reach out to the grassroots, Rand Paul is probably the go-to guy right now. He is clearly as close to his father as anybody, Vasovski said.
Some tension is evident in the Greenville County GOP, who voted this week to censure former chairman Chad Connelly for what the party saw as unfair treatment of their delegation and members who were running for party offices.
Stroman, the state GOP director, maintains that the Greenville party is continuing to slide down the slope of irrelevancy and does not reflect the beliefs of many Greenville Republicans.
Paul, who has found himself at odds in the media with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham on overseas conflicts, likely will find support among conservatives calling for challengers to the Seneca Republican.
Anderson County Republican Richard Cash, who owns a used-car business and a fleet of neighborhood ice-cream trucks, has announced his campaign against Graham. Cash said he looks forward to meeting the Kentucky senator Friday.
More mainstream than dad
The idea for Pauls visit came from a discussion he had in January with Connelly during a trip to Israel that included conservatives from Iowa, another early primary state.
S.C. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who endorsed Ron Paul in the 2012 GOP presidential primary, said the younger Pauls appeal stems in part from the 13-hour filibuster he mounted against the nations drone program that grew popular on Twitter.
#StandwithRand became a hashtag phenomenon, said Davis, adding that the younger Paul is following in his fathers footsteps, but in a way that is more politically sophisticated in trying to mainstream his views in the Republican Party.
Paul excites the partys libertarian wing, the L as he calls it, which is where all the partys momentum is right now, he said.
A divisive voice
But not all S.C. political movers and shakers agree.
Republican political consultant Bob McAlister, a former chief of staff for S.C. GOP icon Gov. Carol Campbell, said Paul is right about his views on spending the country needs to get its debt under control.
But on other issues, such as foreign policy and national defense, Paul misses the pulse of the mainstream GOP, McAlister said. An example, he said, is Pauls defense of Edward Snowden, the federal contractor who leaked information about the National Security Agencys cellphone surveillance program.
I dont think anyone defending the leaker who is a traitor, I dont know that they would find a majority of South Carolinians welcoming that viewpoint.
Barry Wynn, a Spartanburg political financial consultant, said it is still too early to see what kind of support Paul or any candidates will attract in the state.
But the donors who gave big to 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and, before him, President George W. Bush, likely will not be attending fundraisers for Rand Paul, Wynn said.
Rand Paul might be a little bit more of an acquired taste than some of those folks like.
Greenville-based political consultant Chip Felkel called him a lightning rod, and said it will be interesting to see who attends the Greenville fundraiser because thats a pretty decent price tag. Hes a guy whos getting a national following. Some of that has been an offshoot of his dads supporters, but his dads supporters arent the people who go to high-dollar fundraisers.
Reach Self at (803)771-8658