Rand Paul: The Obama of the Tea Party?

That's how Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, was posed in the headline of a Salon piece Friday by Ben Van Heuvelen: "the Tea Party's Obama." Paul is a uniter of the libertarian/Tea Party right, Van Heuven wrote:

The political genius of Paul is his ability to cultivate a narrative that speaks to all strains of the Tea Party movement at once. After all, the libertarian purists who loved Ron Paul's dissident truth-telling are not natural allies of the Limbaugh Dittoheads who dismissed him as an eccentric. He sings his libertarianism in the key of Glenn Beck - and he is writing a Republican playbook for the tea party era, turning grassroots energy into electoral power. Now, less than a week before the primary, polls show Paul's lead over Grayson approaching 20 points. He also leads both of his potential Democratic challengers in the general election polling.

Paul is currently poised to crush his opponent, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, in tomorrow's Kentucky GOP primary, despite--or perhaps due to--the establishment backing that Grayson enjoys. There is an Obama parallel in there, as the current president defeated the ultimate Democratic establishment candidate in Hillary Clinton, who had a network of supporters from her husband's days as president--eight years of favors curried, endorsements lined up--at her back.

It's definitely premature to declare anyone the Tea Party's Obama. The Tea Party movement hasn't put anyone in the White House yet, though it is likely that in 2012 it will put someone on the GOP ticket, at the very least as VP. Until that happens, we won't know who will be that Obama-esque uniter, able to unite existing GOP coalitions while at the same time turning out new or marginalized voters.

But the Tea Party movement has created its own new set of stars--up-and-coming politicians who have vaulted from anonymity to the national spotlight. Amid a heavy demand for anti-spending and anti-bailout rhetoric, it's worth noting that none of them had to vote on the 2009 TARP bailout--just as President Obama didn't have to vote on Iraq as a state senator (and indeed spoke out against it)--and they're free of that baggage that now weighs on incumbent senators who were exposed to that hydrant of pressure from Henry Paulson and the Bush administration's Treasury Department.

The star politicians delivered, so far, by the Tea Party movement are: Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Scott Brown (he was backed by Tea Partiers, even though he's not actually one, himself). Consequential candidates who were born of Tea Partyism but haven't attained stardom, yet, are: Sharron Angle (if she wins the Nevada GOP primary and defeats Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall), Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater (who will run against each other in Utah's GOP Senate primary, having both taken down Republican Sen. Bob Bennett at the state convention with Tea Party support). Between now and this time next year, it seems one of these politicians will have been further apotheosized by Tea Partiers, and could end up as a presidential candidate or VP pick in 2012. If that happens, the movement will truly have its Obama.