US Republican Senator from Kentucky Rand Paul addresses the 2015 Conservative Policy Summit at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on January 13, 2015. Paul is a possible presidential candidate in next year's election.  AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Rand Paul annoyed at vaccine controversy
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Rand Paul makes first 2015 trip to Iowa, home of first presidential caucuses

He's trying to build a broad coalition of voters, but says he hasn't strayed far from his roots

Des Moines, Iowa CNN  — 

Rand Paul kicked off his first event in Iowa this year with a rally that let him blaze through his favorite libertarian-leaning talking points and draw a contrast between himself and his potential Republican rivals.

“You’re going to get a choice on who the nominee is for the Republican Party. You’re going to have 9, 10, 15, 20 who are eager to go and want troops on the ground,” he said, talking about the war against Islamic extremism. “They want 100,000 troops on the ground. Right now. In all the countries.”

The Kentucky Republican had a rough week but found a friendly audience Friday night headlining an “Audit the Fed” rally at Jasper Winery in Des Moines, an event packed with many of his father’s supporters and hosted by a group called Liberty Iowa.

It was a curious strategy for a man who’s trying to build a broad coalition of voters behind him, but he assured supporters that he hasn’t strayed far from his roots.

“Some of you may remember I sued the President,” he said, pointing to a lawsuit he launched last year against the National Security Agency over its bulk metadata collection effort.

He didn’t, however, mention that the lawsuit has been put on hold, or that he voted against a reform package in Congress last year because he felt it didn’t go far enough in tweaking the agency.

Paul, who faced criticism this week over comments expressing doubt about the effectiveness of vaccinations and took heat over drama involving one of his advisers, is in Iowa on a quick two-day swing that puts him in front of familiar audiences.

Following the “Audit the Fed” rally Friday night, he attends the Iowa State University men’s basketball game Saturday, as well as a watch party with young voters and a meet-and-greet with freshman Rep. Rod Blum.

Paul is one of many Republicans who will barnstorm the state in the coming months, seeking support ahead of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest a year from now. While it’s his first time in the state this year, Paul visited Iowa five times last cycle, and has indicated he plans to make the state a big part of his 2016 strategy.

His father, ex-Texas Rep. Ron Paul, built a solid foundation of supporters in Iowa during his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, a base that Paul is trying to court while also making inroads with the mainstream and socially conservative Republicans in the state.

A Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll earlier this week showed Paul in second place at 14% support among likely Republican caucus goers, behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 15%.

Along with repeating familiar refrains that hammer Obamacare and the President’s executive action on immigration, Paul brandished his anti-war credentials. He sought to remind the audience that he caused headaches in the Senate in December by forcing a vote that would declare war against ISIS, but stressed that he voted no.

“I said we have to debate this. And they – can I say bitched and moaned? They bitched and moaned and were so unhappy with me that I brought that up. But we made a vote,” he said.

“Every time we’ve toppled a secular dictator, we’ve gotten chaos and we’ve gotten a rise in radical Islam, and we’ve been less safe,” he added.

Paul, attempting to balance his anti-government persona with his efforts to appear bipartisan, pointed out that he’s still been “willing to work with the President” on criminal justice reform, noting that the same day he sued the administration, Paul sat down for lunch with Attorney General Eric Holder.

“He looks at me and says, ‘I see you’re suing me and the President today.’ I said, ‘Well, you know, we can still be friends right?’ ”

Paul offered some rare praise for Holder, saying at the end he “did some good things on criminal justice,” but warned that he may be replaced by current nominee Loretta Lynch, saying she’s not strong enough on reforming civil forfeiture.

The main thrust of the event was rallying support behind his new legislation to audit the Federal Reserve. It is already audited by a third-party accounting firm arranged through the inspector general and partially by the Government Accountability Office, but Paul’s bill would give full auditing power to the GAO and would require regular reports to Congress.

“Is there a revolving door between Wall Street, the fed, and back to Wall Street again?” Paul asked, twirling his arm in the air.

The bill last year passed the GOP-controlled House with bipartisan support but was blocked by the Democratic-led Senate.

Critics, including Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, have vowed to aggressively fight such efforts. Emboldened by the new Republican Congress, however, Paul feels that the legislation has a better shot at breaking through and making it to the President’s desk.

“I think there needs to be some sunshine. I’m going to fight ‘em and we’re going to get a vote on Audit the Fed,” he said to applause.