Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose libertarian message was once seen as a powerful match for voter unrest, is dropping out of the presidential race, his spokesman confirmed Wednesday.
Paul built a grass-roots base stemming from the legacy of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, but failed to gain traction. He languished in the polls and placed far behind front-runners Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and billionaire Donald Trump in Iowa.
Paul also faces a home state challenge from Democrats in his Senate reelection bid. He is expected to shift his attention to that race. Politically, Paul's decision seemed a better-safe-than-sorry move.
"Sen. Paul isn't in imminent danger of losing reelection, but he can't take the race for granted," said Nathan Gonzales, a nonpartisan analyst with the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report. "The Republican lean of Kentucky gives Paul a cushion, but the longer he stayed in the presidential race, the more time he gave Democrats to hit him over the head for not paying enough attention to what is happening back home."
Paul was among the first tea party senators elected when he stunned Washington to win the seat in 2010.