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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In just three years, Kentucky's junior U.S. Senator has gone from obscure eye doctor to a major player in national politics.
In an exclusive interview, WDRB's Lawrence Smith spoke to Rand Paul about being a rebel, about a possible presidential run, and what his wife wants him to do before he answers questions.
Rand Paul has become almost omni-present on cable news and national talk shows. He's attempting to re-shape the Republican Party and turn himself into a serious contender for president.
All that for someone who, on the surface, does not appear to be a natural politician. He told WDRB's Lawrence Smith, "I'm not the kind that when I walk down the aisle at the grocery store, I shake hands with everybody. It's not that I don't like everybody, it's just not who I am necessarily."
But what kind of guy is the junior senator from Kentucky? What drove him onto the national stage? "I love getting involved in the debate of which way our country should go," he says.
Paul rode a wave of Tea Party enthusiasm along with a national fund-raising machine fueled by supporters of his famous father, then Texas congressman and perennial presidential candidate Ron Paul. He won the first office for which he ever ran.
Rand Paul admits, "Some of it, I think is inexplicable. It's just sort of being in the right place and the right time and maybe with the right message."
It was a hybrid libertarian/conservative message of smaller government and more individual liberty that resonated with Kentucky voters -- but that sometimes gets him in trouble on the national stage.
One example was a 2010 interview with Rachel Maddow in which he seemed to question part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act: "There's 10 different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act. And nine out of 10 deal with public institutions that I'm absolutely in favor of. One deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that."
His critics used the exchange to brand Paul as a racist, something he strongly denies. Paul says the interview taught him a valuable lesson about media and hardball politics.
"You have to have a little bit of a thick skin," he said. "During the campaign it was particularly hard on my wife. There were times she would come home crying because of the stuff that was said about me. Particularly when it's unfair. If they want to characterize who you are as a person, that's particularly troubling."
But is he tempted to sometimes be more politically correct? His response: "Many politicians try to tell people what they want to hear. So there's a lot of pandering in politics. And I try to tell people, which I think is the honest truth, that I was happy being a physician, and I'll be happy if I'm sent back to being a physician. It's been a great honor to have served in the U.S. Senate, but I try to do what I think is right, and I make missteps. I occasionally will say something. My wife tells me 'Count to 10 before you say anything.' And sometimes I don't."
But despite his admitted missteps, Rand Paul's political career has taken off like a rocket. He was recently named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People.
"It was exciting, unexpected," he says. "I don't know if that came out of the filibuster or how that came about."
If Paul's career is a rocket, the filibuster was the fuse. He spent 13 hours on the Senate floor questioning the president's policy on the use of drones, and whether he would launch them against domestic terror suspects.
"Stand with Rand" became a national sensation.
He says, "The filibuster was something, really, that was extraordinary. In a sense, the reaction to it, we had no idea. And if you would have polled that issue and said,'Oh you're going to get a million people re-tweeting this and talking about this, and it would trend internationally on Google,' no one would have ever guessed that, myself included. I just went in because I passionately believed in something."
But it helped launch what many believe is another unlikely campaign, this one for President of the United States.
Paul says he'll decide in 2014. When asked what factors will determine whether he runs for president, he responded, "Mostly discussions with my family, and trying to figure that out. And then the practicality of whether you can do it. I mean, it's an enormous undertaking. I don't want to do it as an educational kind of thing or promote a point. I would do it only if I thought I had a chance of winning."
Paul is already acting like a candidate -- speaking in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire and reaching out to groups unlikely to support him, such as Hispanics and African Americans.
He says that's, "Because I want them to consider Republicans. I want their vote. So, I'm pretty honest that I'm not just doing this completely out of the goodness of my heart. I'm doing it because it would be good for the Republican Party and good for me."
And if Paul does run, Time Magazine may have already given him a campaign theme, labeling him "The Rebel." He says he's, "Rebellious on occasion. But I think I'm, hopefully, a happy rebel."
Smith asked Paul what appealed to him most about being Kentucky's senator. He talked about his effort to keep the Corps of Engineers from stopping fishing in parts of Lake Barkley in Western Kentucky. Paul said he had bipartisan support from local officials in telling the feds to back off.
Like it or not, Paul says that's what he's all about -- telling Washington D.C. to leave us alone.