Much to the chagrin of many of his hawkish colleagues, Paul has spent the last several weeks pushing to end a national security program that allows the collection of Americans' phone metadata. Two weeks ago, he railed against government surveillance programs on the Senate floor for more than 10 hours. Then, by blocking a short-term extension of the program, Paul helped catapult the Senate into a rare Sunday session. And even in the final days of the debate, Paul stood in the way of the Senate inevitably passing a reform bill that he believed did not go far enough.
"I think he rang this bill till it cracked and it's not the Liberty Bell," said Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who has been a fierce defender of the Patriot Act.
But Paul is not looking to win a popularity contest within the Senate. He needs to win the race of public opinion and raise his profile among grassroots donors. Unlike competitors such as Jeb Bush or even fellow Sen. Marco Rubio, Paul has struggled to tap into the donor class that many campaigns rely on. So, from the Senate floor during his battle against the NSA, Paul's campaign raked in money. Supporters took selfies and tweeted that they "stand with Rand." The Paul-endorsed America's Liberty super PAC even played up Paul's big fight by producing a fire-breathing ad depicting Paul's 2016 presidential competitors Sens. Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham as Obama henchmen and Paul as a toned-up crusader for civil liberties. That outlandish strategy works for Paul.
Jesse Benton, a spokesperson for the PAC, said that the video had brought in new donors. He declined to say how many or how much was raised.
"You do something like that, you always risk turning people off," he said. "But we're hoping and seeing potential Rand Paul donors are savvy. They understand marketing, they understand having to get attention. They're appreciative of the technique."
In upcoming months, Paul, as well as other presidential contenders, will have a lot of chances to take their campaign strategies straight to the Senate floor.
The Senate now has moved on to consider NDAA, giving Paul a chance to beat the drum on his Sept. 11 survivors bill, or perhaps even talk more about foreign aid. A debate over the reauthorization of the Export-Import bank at the end of the month will give Paul another chance to align himself with libertarians who view the bank as a kind of crony capitalism. There is expected to be a debate on a bipartisan education bill, legislation on cybersecurity, and perhaps even more movement on one of Paul's most talked-about issue: criminal justice reform. Paul's Senate office and his campaign declined to give more specifics about where the presidential candidate is going to spend his political capital.
Still, just because the NSA fight is coming to a close, does not mean Paul's time in the Senate spotlight is over.