Rand Paul

Sam Youngman: Will Rand Paul's new friends show him the money?

Former presidential candidate and Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul raised about $40 million when he ran for the nation's top office in 2012.

That seems like a lot of money — and a heck of a fundraising base for the ex-congressman's son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, to build from should he decide to make a run for president in 2016.

But the man who won the 2012 nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, spent more than $75 million, and that doesn't include about $50 million in super PAC money spent on his behalf. And that was just to win the nomination.

So one of the many big questions facing Rand Paul, weeks from announcing his Senate re-election effort and a winter away from announcing whether he will run for president, is whether he can raise the big money needed to mount a winning presidential run.

Mitch McConnell, the incoming U.S. Senate majority leader, certainly knows a thing or two about big-time fundraising, and Kentucky's senior senator has opened doors to establishment donors for his junior colleague.

When the final Federal Election Commission finance reports from the 2014 election come out, McConnell will show he raised more than $30 million for his re-election, shattering the record he set in 2008.

The woman who spearheaded that effort, Laura Sequeira, who was finance director for McConnell's campaign, has signed on to help Paul, along with Erika Sather, who raised big bucks for successful Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton.

Still, others who helped build the backbone for McConnell's winning effort are far from committed to helping Paul, keeping their powder dry as the field comes into focus.

That is even true in Paul's own backyard, where coal magnate Joe Craft and his fiancée, Kelly Knight, a GOP fundraiser and ambassador to the United Nations under then-President George W. Bush, have not committed to any presidential candidate.

Several potential candidates have contacted the Lexington power couple, who have longstanding ties with the Bush family (George W. Bush was the first person to call and congratulate them on their engagement) and are close friends with Romney.

If Romney or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were to signal they were entering the race, it's a safe bet that Craft and Knight would be among the first people they would call. Thus far, there is no reason to think that Craft and Knight would support Paul just because he is from Kentucky.

The duo helped raise millions for McConnell's re-election, and they both were national campaign finance co-chairs for Romney's 2012 bid.

If Paul were to lose them to a rival candidate, it could have a chilling effect on his ability to raise money with the rest of the GOP establishment's base of mega-donors.

Of course, Bush or Romney probably would create fundraising woes for the entire field, not just Paul.

Regardless of who else might run, Paul's allies feel confident that he has spent the past 11 months wisely, establishing the relationships he'll need to build on whatever portion of his father's fundraising base that remains loyal to the son.

Nate Morris, a friend of Paul who has been a sort of Sherpa to the world of high finance for the senator, said "there's obviously still a lot of work to be done, but I think Rand is doing all the right things and going to all the right places."

Morris said Paul had spent much of the year meeting with and wowing executives from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Some of Paul's media accolades, such as being named part of Vanity Fair's New Establishment, have helped solidify those newly cultivated relationships, he said.

"It's just a demonstration that the people within those communities are taking note of Rand's ascension as the frontrunner for the nomination," Morris said.

Within the GOP, Paul has collected quite a few chits, traveling and campaigning for Republicans across the country. All told, Paul spent about $500,000 helping Republicans win, and there is always reason to think that presidential candidates who pitch in during the midterms will see some return on their investment.

Jack Oliver, who headed Bush's 2000 and 2004 fundraising efforts, said Paul had done a good job of building credibility for his message of growing the party by showing up in places where Republicans normally don't go.

"And in doing so, he's caught the attention of a lot of donors," Oliver said.

Of course, none of these donors is going to give Paul the keys to their vaults unless he asks. It sounds simple, but it's an area where not every candidate shines, and Paul has little experience.

He has run only one campaign, raising about $6 million when he won his Senate seat in 2010.

Now, Paul faces the specter of raising money for two simultaneous elections, which could make his busy 2014 look like a vacation in retrospect.