Robert Costa writes about Rand Paul's shmoozing of Iowa Republicans and how they feel about him:
This week, as Rand Paul takes his first steps toward a presidential campaign, all of that practice may begin to pay off. He is set to speak in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, where he'll headline the state party's Lincoln dinner. According to officials, the event is already sold out. But the interest in his visit, even at this early stage, is unsurprising. Iowans, who have long been obsessed with presidential politics, are already curious about how Paul is framing his message, years ahead of the 2016 caucuses. They want to see whether Paul can use that charisma, and his newfound celebrity, to bridge the Iowa GOP's factions in a way that his father did not.
Building a strong, viable Iowa network, with ties to the party apparatus, may be easier for Rand Paul than it was for his father. Instead of being an outside contender, he can cast himself, right from the start, as a man of both the grassroots and the establishment. In Iowa, the Ron Paul movement is now running the show. A. J. Spiker, the state GOP chairman, is a former Ron Paul volunteer, and was instrumental in extending the coveted Lincoln dinner invite to the senator. "I've known Rand for a few years," Spiker says. "He toured the state with his dad ahead of the caucuses. People really like him, they like his constitutional conservatism, and we're expecting more than 500 people, plus 40 media outlets, to show up."
Behind the scenes, Paul's team, led by strategist Doug Stafford, is taking advantage of this evolution of the Paul brand within Republican politics by connecting the senator with activists and donors. He's not actively campaigning, but he is keeping in touch. Before Friday's dinner, Paul will meet with the event's sponsors at a private reception. The state's GOP kingmakers — congressman Steve King and senator Chuck Grassley — will be there. His inner circle wants him to get Iowa's conservatives interested in his candidacy before other candidates swoop in. More Hawkeye State events are being planned, as are stops in other early-primary states.
Steve Scheffler, a member of the Republican National Committee, tells me that he'll be that the dinner on Friday, listening closely to what Paul has to say. He confides that he and other Republicans are familiar with the Kentucky senator, but they're still not entirely sure about where he stands on the issues. "The verdict is still out," Scheffler says. Ron Paul supporters, he adds, are "cautious" about rallying too quickly to Rand's side. "I think there will be some rollover from his father's campaign, but there's going to be a wait-and-see period," he says.
Scheffler says one specific issue he wants to hear more about is immigration, since he and others have heard that Paul is open to a pathway to legalization, which isn't a popular position, especially in conservative western Iowa. Other Iowa Republicans tell me that they want to hear more about his foreign policy positions. They want to hear about how close he hews to his father's worldview. Sources close to Senator Paul, though, say that Friday's speech isn't so much about giving a policy talk, but about sounding a bigger theme about leadership and liberty.
"It's never too early to start thinking about the next election," says David Fischer, an Iowa GOP co-chairman and former Ron Paul adviser. He too got to know Rand during last year's campaign. "We've sold every ticket in the room, and I think it's because the country is changing and people are looking for someone fresh, like Rand, who can get beyond the rhetoric and talk frankly about limited government," he says. "I'm not going to handicap the race this far in advance, but people here admire him. They like his father, but believe me, they know that he's not the same guy."