Ever since Rand Paul became a US senator, rumors have suggested that he might mount a campaign for the presidency in 2016. Initially, corporate mainstream media pundits widely dismissed his views as unpopular and his potential candidacy as doomed for failure. However, in the wake of new polling that places him at the head of the GOP pack and in the best position to take on Hillary Clinton in the general election, a wide range of mainstream media outlets, including Meet the Press, Huffington Post, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, National Journal, Newsmaxand US News and World Reporthave declared that Rand Paul is currently the frontrunner in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

On the July 20 episode of NBC‘s Meet the Press, Chuck Todd succinctly summed up Rand Paul’s claim to frontrunner status, “What gives Paul that label? He has the highest favorable ratings of any potential candidate in the two [early primary] states. He leads the polls in the early horserace, not including the undecided vote, and he runs best against Hillary Clinton.” Todd also pointed to some of Senator Paul’s recent political stances as a rationale for his claim at the top of the Republican pile, “But it’s not just good poll numbers, he’s been very strategic in the past six months. Paul hired Rick Santorum’s former campaign manager. He’s teamed with Democrat Cory Booker on some legislation. And he backs a less active foreign policy that happens to be more popular with the public. This also could mean that Paul will be an early target of uneasy establishment Republicans all of next year.”

In Slate, David Weigel dissented, claiming that Rand Paul’s frontrunner status falls apart when Mitt Romney is included in polls. However, the University of New Hampshire poll that Weigel cited as his sole example is hardly representative of Republican voters nationwide, as former Massachusetts Governor Romney has a second home in New Hampshire, a state that neighbors Massachusetts where he was elected governor, and polls like a local candidate. Eric Levenson at Boston.com also cautioned that one of the poll’s authors, Andrew Smith from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said, “[It’s in] no way indicative of what’s going to happen… A lot of this is name recognition.”

Eric Levenson also pointed out the fact that the University of New Hampshire poll’s question may have caused a bias among participants, “The particular phrasing of the question posed to responders also likely had an impact on Romney’s big advantage. The pollers first asked a bevy of questions and opinions about the expected Republican contestants, including Christie, Ryan, Paul, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and others. The poller then asked a follow-up question: ‘If Mitt Romney were to run for the Republican nomination…’ followed by a list of all those same potential candidates. Specifically calling out Romney before mentioning the other names may have had the effect of highlighting him above others and influencing the response.”

If Rand Paul remains the GOP frontrunner as 2016 approaches, expect establishment Republicans to continue the already-underway barrage of attacks against him. Politico notes that, in recent weeks, several potential 2016 candidates have taken shots at Rand Paul’s foreign policy in what appears to have so far been a failed effort to soften Paul’s lead.

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