- Rand Paul kicks off a three-day swing Monday across the first-in-the-nation caucus state
- The state would be crucial for Paul if he runs for president in 2016
- "You want to come in and do favors for Iowa politicians," Iowa political expert says
- This is Paul's fourth trip to the Hawkeye State since the 2012 presidential election
Sen. Rand Paul kicks off a three-day swing Monday across Iowa, holding campaign-style events and fund-raisers with local politicians as the potential Republican presidential contender barnstorms the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
Paul's route will take him through nine cities from the state's western border to its eastern edge. The Kentucky Republican will also help the state Republican Party open multiple offices ahead of the midterm elections.
"It's very important for Sen. Paul to hear the concerns of average Iowans as well as job creators," said Steve Grubbs, Paul's chief Iowa strategist and a longtime political operative in the Hawkeye State.
As Paul lays the groundwork for a potential presidential campaign, he has kept Iowa a top priority. This is his fourth trip there since the 2012 presidential election.
Paul will leave the state on Wednesday, a day before the start of the Iowa State Fair, a popular venue for presidential hopefuls. A small swarm of other potential GOP contenders will travel to Iowa this weekend to attend a popular event for social conservatives. But Paul won't be there, preferring to give the candidates he's been helping some breathing room and allow them to be the focus.
Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa, said the senator's plan isn't a bad idea, especially in a midterm election year.
"You want to come in and do favors for Iowa politicians," he said. "If you're at the state fair, the attention is on you and not the person you're trying to help."
"Next year, you call in those favors," he added. "That's how it works."
Paul actually starts the week in Omaha, Nebraska, where he'll appear publicly with Ben Sasse, the GOP nominee for Nebraska's open Senate seat.
Then, he'll quickly hop across the state line to help the Iowa GOP open an office in Council Bluffs, where he's expected to appear with the state's GOP Senate nominee, Joni Ernst.
Later Monday he travels north to Sioux City for another office opening, and then to a fund-raiser farther north, in Okoboji, for Rep. Steve King, a longtime congressman with considerable sway among the state's social conservatives.
Tuesday morning Paul is back on the road for a fund-raiser in Clear Lake, before a stop at the Iowa GOP office in Hiawatha. Continuing east, he'll attend a fund-raiser for Mariannette Miller-Meeks' congressional campaign in Iowa City, and then he has two events in Davenport, including a tour of the corporate headquarters of Von Maur department stores.
Wednesday he attends a breakfast in Urbandale and wraps up his public appearances for the week with another GOP office opening in the same city, a suburb of Des Moines.
Paul's political action committee, RANDPAC, has made two big hires from Iowa in recent months: Grubbs -- who's also a former state representative and state party chairman -- and A.J. Spiker, a prominent figure among Iowa's libertarian-leaning Republicans.
Paul's father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, generated a huge following in Iowa during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. The libertarian movement went on to gain sizable influence in the state's Republican Party after the election -- Spiker, for example, became state GOP chairman -- but mainstream Republicans took back control of the party earlier this year.
A big question will be whether Rand Paul, who's considered more moderate than his father, can re-energize the so-called Liberty faction of the state party, while also garnering support from its social conservatives and mainstream Republicans.
"One of the reasons I signed on to work with Sen. Paul is I could see how he appeals to all of our party," Grubbs said. "There are very few candidates who have that ability to unify our party. I think that he can do that."