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Political cards falling correctly for Paul's hopes

By Sam Youngman Lexington Herald-Leader

In late February, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul played golf with Donald Trump at Trump's course in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump shot par and walked away with the win.

That's about the only thing that hasn't gone Paul's way in 2014 as he continues to eye a run for the White House in 2016.

More than a year removed from the 13-hour filibuster that sent his star rising and less than a year before Paul could announce that he is running for president, Kentucky's junior senator is winning over skeptics daily.

What once seemed like a parlor game punchline is growing more realistic by the day: Rand Paul could very well win the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

The road map Paul and his team put together - growing his brand outside of tea party voters, making inroads with establishment Republican donors, and wooing millennials - appears to be on track.

Black leaders are increasingly inviting Paul to speak and listen to their constituents, top donors are sitting down for lunch with the tea party darling - nearly matching what Paul is raising from his strong base of small-dollar donors - and a couple thousand millennials made sure Paul walked away from last weekend's CPAC convention with his second straight straw-poll win.

Last year's plagiarism scandal feels like old news, especially in light of the scandal that has hamstrung New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. National media, long skeptical that the son of perennial candidate and former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul could make a serious run for president, are now calling him the frontrunner.

It's difficult to overstate, in terms of importance with early Republican primary voters and national media, just how huge it was a couple weeks ago when the banner headline on The Drudge Report read "leader of the pack" beneath a picture of Paul.

Perhaps the most telling proof of Rand's recent roll is watching his would-be opponents try to use the situation in Ukraine to paint Paul as an isolationist with foreign policy views similar to his father's.

Paul has tried to use the criticisms to his favor, calling out his rivals for playing politics and trying to establish himself as far more reasonable on foreign policy than his enemies would have people believe.

Paul's good fortune even appears to extend to Frankfort.

Sure, the bill that state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, filed last week seeking to clarify that Paul can run for both the presidency and re-election to the Senate in 2016 appears doomed. But even if it fails, Thayer's bill does two things for Paul: It could help improve his standing in court when, or let's say if, his effort to get on the ballot twice is challenged. And perhaps more importantly, it lets Paul see early on who is with him and who's not.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his top aides worked the phones hard last week, rustling up support for Thayer's effort. Any Republicans who hope to derail Paul's efforts are running out of cover, and the bill's path through Frankfort could reveal or even pacify them.

By just about every measure, Paul is winning 2014. He's showing no signs of slowing down.

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