U.S. Sen. Rand Paul brought early 2016 rumblings to Atlanta today, raising six figures from political donors and meeting with about 15 Atlanta community and business leaders to give his vision for the future of the country.
The Kentucky Republican is taking a look at a presidential run, and visited Georgia to pitch his brand of constitutional conservatism.
A group of local leaders assembled by Ashley Bell, an attorney and former Hall County commissioner, were not all Paul fans, nor were they even all Republicans, and Bell said he was the only political donor in the group.
"There’s nobody out there doing what Rand Paul did today," Bell said. "There's nobody, when it comes to the presidential discussion at this point, meeting with people and not asking for dollars."
But Paul did also throw a morning fundraiser with a minimum contribution of $2,600 that organizer Lane Moore, of private investment firm QuarterMoore Capital, said raised well over $100,000.
With the business leaders Paul focused on education, talked about making federal Title I money for low-income students follow students rather than schools, a potential boon for charter schools. Bell said the message was part of the larger theme of getting tax money and policy more locally tethered than coming from Washington.
"If we had somebody like Rand Paul in the White House we wouldn't have this Common Core discussion," Bell said. "Someone like Rand Paul wouldn’t be setting the standard from Washington."
Paul is the son of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who ran for president a couple of times and garnered young-skewing, libertarian-leaning support. The younger Paul, elected to the Senate in 2010, was best known last year for a 13-hour filibuster against President Barack Obama's drone policy, though he was tripped up by a plagiarism scandal.
Moore said Paul's message played well with the 50 donors who heard a short speech and engaged in a "lively" question-and-answer session:
"I think it resonated with the audience. There were a lot of people that commented that maybe before today they didn't know Senator Paul very well and what he was about. And I think a lot of people tend to think his policies were his father’s policies and I don’t think that was the case. So I think Senator Paul is trying to get to places like Atlanta and Detroit and other places to really share with the voters what some of his ideas are."
Bell said Paul's approach of "being able to speak to someone outside the choir" mirrors one of the Republican Party's goals after a rough 2012 election.
As for Bell himself, he is prepping a run for state school superintendent. The job is open as John Barge is running for governor. Said Bell:
"We have aggressively begun a listening campaign for state school superintendent in Georgia, aggressively done so. We are putting all the pieces together that we hope for an announcement that would come soon."