Rand Paul launches Iowa college tour

Story highlights

  • Rand Paul plans to launch a college-focused tour in Iowa starting Monday
  • "Our goal is to turn 10,000 students out -- that could be enough to win the Iowa caucus," he said

Waterloo, Iowa (CNN)Facing sagging poll numbers and questions about whether he may soon drop out of the race, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul says he is standing firm, in it to win it and planning to launch an extensive college tour in the key early voting state of Iowa next week.

The 11-stop, three-day swing starts Monday. The goal is to fire up young voters the campaign believes will be drawn to the senator's emphasis on issues like curtailing government surveillance, criminal justice reform and questioning continued U.S. involvement in wars overseas.
"I think that many of these kids are ready to come our way," Paul told CNN in a brief telephone interview. "Our goal is to turn 10,000 students out -- that could be enough to win the Iowa caucus. We think it's an achievable goal for us."
    The swing will take the senator to Cedar Rapids, Mount, Vernon, Iowa City, Davenport, Dubuque, Fayette, Waverly, Cedar Falls, Sioux City, Storm Lake and Des Moines. It builds on an initiative the campaign launched in August aimed at encouraging college students to launch chapters for Paul supporters on 300 college campuses over 30 days. The campaign beat that goal, with 340 chapters set up on campuses nationwide in that time period and has added several more since, 15 of them in Iowa.
    The libertarian firebrand, who was one of the first candidates to throw his hat in the ring, is hoping college students will give him an edge in Iowa and other early states. Wooing them could make an impact in Iowa, which has more than 130,000 students at four-year colleges alone, according to the 2013 Iowa College and University Enrollment Report.
    The state makes it easy for such students, and all voters, to cast a ballot: One can register and vote on the same day, which will allow people to make a last-minute decision to participate in the state's first in the nation caucus in February.
    Paul's campaign notes that his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, came in third in the caucuses here in 2012, a year when they were held during Christmas break. In 2016, they are set for February 1, when school will be in session, making students a key group to engage.
    Outside college campuses, Paul says his campaign is well-organized ahead of the caucuses here.
    "I think the main thing is our organizational strength is under-reported," he said, adding his campaign had mounted a statewide effort to contact all potential supporters. "We have county chairmen in all 99 counties in Iowa."
    The senator is languishing in the single digits in national and early state polls and his campaign is also struggling on the fundraising front, raising some $2.5 million in the third quarter. That's well under the $7 million he raised in the second quarter, but the campaign says part of that figure was money that was transferred from his Senate committee, a practice allowed under campaign finance laws. The campaign has $2 million cash-on-hand, which aides believe is enough for a long race.
    Paul's third quarter take is just a fraction of the $20 million the campaign of retired brain surgeon Ben Carson. Paul's campaign says it is on track to post for the third quarter, but the senator says the focus should be on a more comprehensive figure of $16.3 million -- that's how much he says his campaign and supporting super PACs have raised this year, with the help of 120,000 donors. Paul said 96% of donations to his campaign were under $100.
    And despite his standing in polls, he says he is not going anywhere.
    "We're in it to win and we're in it for the long haul," Paul said, adding that he believes he can win in the first two states to vote. "We still consider that we are contending to win in Iowa and New Hampshire."