FRANKFORT — In another example of his growing national influence, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is lending his name to support Young America's Foundation, a group interested in introducing conservatism to American youth.
Paul, a Republican from Bowling Green, is featured in a national fund-raising mailer sent out this week by the group that is based in Washington, D.C. The foundation has used national conservative leaders such as Sarah Palin to advocate for it.
Paul's involvement with the mailer, along with recent speeches to national audiences and his frequent appearances on national TV, is fueling speculation that he might run for president in four years.
Ron Meyer, spokesman for the Young America's Foundation, said Tuesday he thinks Paul has a promising future on the national political stage.
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"We consider Sen. Paul one of the major voices now in this country for conservative values," Meyer said. "We would like to get him to speak to our group at our Reagan Ranch Center in California. We are appreciative of his help and see great things for him."
Paul has been quite active in building his national image.
Earlier this month, he spoke to the Conservative Political Action Conference hosted by the American Conservative Union Foundation in Chicago.
He also wrote an opinion piece for USA Today about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's win in a recall election that garnered national attention. In it, Paul got to mention again his personal disdain for "huge deficits, bloated bureaucracies, bailout and special interests feeding at taxpayer's expense."
Paul is a regular guest on national cable news shows. Last week, he was on Fox News and CNN, talking about his legislation on warrantless domestic drone surveillance.
He has spent much of the past year campaigning across the country for the presidential candidacy of his father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
After former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wrapped up this year's Republican presidential nomination, Rand Paul announced his support for Romney.
That prompted Paul's state director, Jim Milliman, to say that Paul might get more of the national spotlight in a prime speaking role at the Republican National Convention this summer in Tampa, Fla.
Paul is not saying much about a future presidential bid, but his activities underscore his aspirations to be a national leader.
In an email to the Lexington Herald-Leader on Tuesday about his support letter for Young America's Foundation, Paul said: "Supporting young conservatives at the collegiate level — in Kentucky and across the country — is an important part of fostering the next generation of leaders dedicated to limited government, defense of civil liberties, and upholding the Constitution. I am constantly inspired by the energy and dedication these young people have in supporting these ideals, and anything I can do to further their momentum is an honor and a pleasure."
With the letter and other national activities, "He's clearly trying to build up his national presence," said state Democratic political consultant Danny Briscoe of Louisville.
Briscoe said the more Paul emphasizes that he is a primary leader of the Tea Party, he improves his political career.
With a bigger national presence, Briscoe said, Paul could run for president in 2016, especially if Romney loses this year, or raise more money nationwide for his re-election race to the U.S. Senate in 2016.
"He beat two quality opponents in 2010 for the U.S. Senate primarily with his father's name," Briscoe said. "It's conceivable that with his own national recognition now, he could raise $10 million to $15 million outside of Kentucky for his re-election. All this is a win-win for him."
Some Democrats like Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Logsdon say Paul has neglected Kentucky, but Briscoe said Paul's penchant for the national stage has not hurt him in Kentucky.
"I don't recall any other Kentucky politician getting so much national attention simply by stating his beliefs," Briscoe said.
U.S. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville "gets national publicity, but that's because of his leadership position," Briscoe said. "Paul gets his because of his strong voice for the Tea Party."
Trey Grayson, a former secretary of state whom Paul defeated in 2010 Kentucky GOP primary for the Senate seat, said Paul ran that race "like a fellow who was going to be a national figure."
"He has attracted a ton of national attention, and that is good for him"
Grayson, now director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, said Paul's national profile and fund-raising put him in "an ideal position" to run for president or re-election.
"I don't think Kentucky voters mind that Paul is on the national stage so much," Grayson said. "People are used to it. Look, this is the guy who announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate from Kentucky in New York, and that didn't hurt him."
Grayson said Kentuckians probably would get upset if their governors "went national but are used to seeing their U.S. senators get national attention."
Grayson predicted that "Democrats would try to paint Paul as someone not in touch with Kentucky, but I don't think that's a winning formula for them."
The letter Paul has written for the Young America's Foundation makes clear that Paul enjoys talking to a national audience.
Addressed to "Fellow Patriot," Paul starts his letter by asking, "Will you help me stop radical liberal professors from brainwashing students?"
He urges each recipient to donate to Young America's Foundation, and sign and return an enclosed Constitution of the United States of America so Young America's Foundation can "put it into the hands of a bright young high school or college student ..., one place liberals dread to find it."
He notes that the Foundation has given away more than 1 million copies of the Constitution to students and supporters nationwide.
"Just imagine the impact that these young people will have on America for generations to come," said Paul, who is fully aware of their strength at the polls.