LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Christian Examiner) – "Today I announce with God's help, with the help of liberty lovers everywhere, that I'm putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America," Sen. Rand Paul declared Tuesday at the Galt Hotel in Louisville.
He was addressing a raucous crowd of supporters who filled a triple-sized ballroom. The freshman senator from Kentucky, who won his seat by preaching Tea Party values, has been courting ethnic voters and young people and both groups were present in force.
Among those introducing him were J.C. Watts, conservative African American and former congressman from Oklahoma; Ralph Alvarado, Hispanic state senator; Jerry Stephenson, African-American pastor; and Lauren Bosler, student enrolled at the University of Kentucky.
"I have a message, a message that is loud and clear and doesn't mince words," Paul said in his 26-minute speech. He stood below a banner that read, "Defeat the Washington Machine. Unleash the American Dream."
"We have come to take our country back," Paul told the crowd, which included media from all the major networks, cable channels and others. "The message of liberty is for all Americans."
According to Gallup, Paul begins his party nomination quest with strong familiarity among Republicans: Nearly seven in 10 (68 percent) are familiar with the freshman senator from Kentucky and a majority (51 percent) have a favorable opinion of him. Only 17 percent view him unfavorably, for a net favorable score of +34.
"Senator Rand Paul is perhaps – structurally – the best positioned candidate to compete against the apparatus that the moderate Republicans has pieced together over the last quarter century," David Lane told Christian Examiner.
Lane is an evangelical political activist and founder/director of the American Renewal Project. He organizes events for candidates to connect with voters and is leading a thrust to have 1,000 evangelical pastors run for any elective office in 2016.
"My best guess is that one candidate – Huckabee, Cruz, Jindal, or ?Paul? – ?i?s going to catch fire in 2016, then it's mano a mano with the establishment and its candidate, but it will break late,"? Lane continued.
"It is the person with bankable political assets that a campaign looks for and eagerly looks to smoke out," the evangelical political activist told Christian Examiner. "These folks often sit back in order to allow the political landscape to mature. And that is why candidates sometimes catch fire at the very last minute, because these assets begin to move late in the game."
Paul, who says libertarian is "a good description" of his views, was elected by Tea Party anti-establishment voters in 2010. He has said he wants to expand the ranks of Republican voters with students and minorities, telling Politico last year "fully a third of the African-American vote" is open to a conservative message.
At the same time Paul has the support of at least one key "establishment" Republican leader.
Mitch McConnell, senior senator and majority leader from Kentucky has given initial vocal support to Paul's candidacy.
Ted Cruz on March 23 was first to announce his candidacy for the U.S. presidency. Of Hispanic/Cuban origin, he, too, rode the Tea Party steamroller into the U.S. Senate in 2012.
He appears to have a strategy of energizing the Republican social conservative base—he announced his candidacy during a student convocation at Liberty University—and convincing Hispanic voters to stand with him.
In Paul's announcement speech, he listed a number of issues affecting America, and pledged to "take our country back" for Americans frustrated with an implacable government.
"I worry that the opportunity and hope are slipping away for our sons and daughters," Paul told a laudatory audience. "... Big Government and debt doubled under a Republican administration, and now it's tripling under Barack Obama's watch. ...
"I propose we do something extraordinary," Paul said. "Let's just spend what comes in."
Paul promised a government restrained by the Constitution and a people reinforced by the Bill of Rights.
Paul began a tour of early-voting states Tuesday night with a fast-paced trip to four, starting with New Hampshire.
Sen. Marco Rubio from Florida is expected to announce his presidential candidacy next week.