SAN FRANCISCO—Rand Paul is riding high. He pocketed a straw-poll win at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. He won another straw poll in New Hampshire. And, perhaps most significant, he tops the 2016 Republican field in an early CNN/ORC International poll.
"I don't know whether it's good luck or it's bad luck," the Kentucky Republican said. "It makes you more of a target, I guess."
"I tell people it's better than being last," he joked in an interview in the lobby of the Olympic Club in downtown San Francisco. As he leaned back in his chair, his suit pants revealed more of his brown, cowboy-style leather boots. "It's better than not being noticed."
There is little chance of that. His growing political perch brings added attention and scrutiny to his every utterance.
Paul will use that presidential-sized platform on Wednesday to speak out at UC Berkeley against the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance practices. While in the Bay Area, he has a series of closed-door meetings, including with prospective donors.
The NSA is one of the issues Paul hopes to use to woo younger voters to the Republican fold in 2016—one of his top political priorities. Paul said his goal is to send a message to students "that there are people in the Republican Party who do want to defend your privacy."