Rand vs. Ron? Don't Count on It

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In epic stories about power, the son is supposed to overtake the father.

Zeus killed Kronos. Luke Skywalker defeated Darth Vader, a couple times.

And so it could be, in 2012, with the father and son of the libertarian cosmos: Ron and Rand Paul, the godfather of the tea party movement and one of its youngest, brightest stars.

Ron Paul is mulling another run for president after his surprisingly high-profile bid in 2008, when he broke the single-day online presidential fundraising record (then.-Sen. Barack Obama would later break it again) and called droves of libertarian voters out of the woodwork to build a national movement.

Rand Paul is considering a presidential campaign of his own, having gained star status in the tea party movement by shocking the GOP establishment with his primary, and then general election wins to gain Kentucky's open Senate seat in 2010.

Both appear to be more or less serious.

Ron Paul's political organization raised $1.1 million this spring and has used the money to send the Texas congressman to Iowa and New Hampshire, where he placed fifth in both GOP nominating contests in 2008. The elder Paul traveled to key primary states in the fall as well. Rand, newer to the presidential game, is reportedly testing the waters in South Carolina, the Charleston Post & Courier recently reported.

Will we see a father vs. son, Empire-Strikes-Back-esque libertarian lightsaber battle in the 2012 presidential race?

Unlikely. The young Jedi appears unwilling to run for president against his father.

"The only certain decision that Rand has made is that he will not run against his dad, and that any further thought would be put off until his dad makes a decision," said Jesse Benton, a political operative at the center of the Paul nexus. Benton ran communications for Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign and later managed Rand Paul's 2010 Senate campaign. He now serves as Ron's political director and as a paid adviser to Rand.

But while the two Pauls are both exploring their presidential possibilities, we may as well ask, as a thought exercise: If both ran, who would win? As long as a potential libertarian Gigantomachia is on the table, why not explore.

Before we jump to the more obvious conclusion--that Ron Paul, he of beloved national following, he of more seasoned wisdom--would reap more votes than his still-up-and-coming progeny, let's just keep one thing in mind: Rand Paul is already more powerful than his father, technically. He is a U.S. senator, one of 100. Ron Paul is a member of the House, one of 435. The denominators tell the tale. The son has already risen.

Some further points to consider, in weighing a potential outcome in the unthinkable Paul vs. Paul presidential feud:

  • Fundraising. Rand Paul raised $7.5 million in his 2010 Senate campaign and attracted significant interest from outside groups and a national tea-party donor base. Ron Paul raised $6 million in one day in 2007, breaking the all-time single-day online fundraising record for a presidential candidate, just a month and a half after he raised $4.3 million in one day. Advantage: Ron
  • Name recognition. Thanks to the '08 campaign, Ron Paul is widely known--in fact, 76 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents know who he is, according to recent Gallup figures. Rand Paul's GOP name recognition is probably better than that of the average Republican senator, given his widely publicized victory and ensuing controversy over the Civil Rights Act, and given that tea party groups raised money from a national activist base on his behalf. But I'm not aware of any polls that have gauged Rand's national name recognition, and it's probably safe to say he trails his father significantly. (Gallup shows Tim Pawlenty at only 39 percent recognition, after all.) Advantage: Ron
  • Campaign infrastructure. When you run for president, you make a lot of connections. Ron Paul would likely do better among key activists in key primary states, with whom he's already forged a connection. Rand, however, enjoyed significant backing last year from newly minted tea-party groups that didn't exist when his father ran in '08. Rand, not Ron, is their darling. It wouldn't make much sense for a national tea-party group to pick sides in a Paul vs. Paul showdown, so it's possible the national tea party activist infrastructure would sit on the sidelines, but it's also possible Rand could secure the backing of one or two significant groups. Advantage: Draw
  • Political liabilities. Rand Paul said he wouldn't have supported the part of the Civil Rights Act that forced private businesses to desegregate, which caused problems for him last summer. But Ron Paul has criticized the law, too. Both want to end foreign aid categorically, which can get dicey when people ask about Israel. The biggest difference could be this: As a presidential candidate, Ron Paul forcefully denounced the 2003 invasion of Iraq--while President Bush was president. Both oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on noninterventionist grounds, but Ron alienated some of President Bush's supporters with that stance. Thanks to timing, Rand didn't. Advantage: Rand
  • Debate potential. The early primary debates are all about making the most of one's stage time. With eight or 12 candidates sharing the spotlight, that doesn't leave much time for everyone. Ron and Rand hold basically the same positions, so it's likely they would receive the same amount of applause, from the same libertarians in the audiences. Key difference: Debate moderators would probably give Ron a little bit more time, since he's established himself as a key player in Republican politics, even if he's not a frontrunning presidential candidate. Advantage: Ron
  • Bottom line: Let's be serious. Ron wins this, hands down. Rand is banished. Order is maintained in the libertarian universe.

Thankfully for both Pauls, that won't happen, barring any unforeseen family squabbles between now and early 2012.

Then again, the campaign would be fun, so perhaps we should root for it. Maybe Rand borrows money from his father and never pays him back...maybe Ron tells his son too forcefully how to be a senator...maybe Rand responds snappily. High political entertainment would ensue.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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