Rand Paul while campaignig for the Republican U.S. Senate seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, in May of 2010
The Washington Post / Getty Images
By Lily Rothman
April 7, 2015

With Rand Paul set to officially announce his campaign for President on Tuesday, the day will mark just how fast his political rise has been. A mere five years ago, he was an outside candidate, an underdog eye doctor running for office for the very first time.

But, while campaigning for a Kentucky Senate seat, he showed that he was serious — and also that he had a lot to learn about appealing to voters outside his core supporter group. As TIME explained in 2010:

When Rand Paul pulled off a surprise win in Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary, he bragged that he was carrying “a message from the Tea Party” that Washington was in for a shake-up. Less than 72 hours later, the ophthalmologist turned political phenom wasn’t sending out messages so much as hiding out in a state of radioactive embarrassment. A day after his win, Paul had mused that the forced integration of Southern lunch counters by the 1964 Civil Rights Act was an unacceptable federal intrusion into the private sector. The following day, Paul announced that the Obama Administration’s tough response to BP over the Gulf Coast oil spill was “un-American” and offered that “sometimes accidents happen.”

By that time, Paul himself was starting to seem like an accident. Democrats gleefully chased the media ambulances as GOP leaders scrambled to distance themselves from the gory scene. But however this newcomer performs in the coming months, the fact remains that he is part of a larger family–literally and figuratively–of like-minded conservatives reshaping Republican politics and giving an unexpectedly complex twist to the 2010 election. Even if Paul keeps stumbling over his shoelaces, the antigovernment ideas that have inspired him and fueled his campaign aren’t going away–and they may gain strength as the U.S. debt problem deepens.

But he quickly learned from the mistake, walking back (sort of) his statement about integration and demonstrating that, as TIME put it in that initial story, “he understands that politics sometimes trumps principle.”

As a 2013 TIME profile of the no-longer-new politician, at that point already discussed as a presidential contender, made clear, he was cultivating a broader appeal — something he’ll need in the run up to 2016. And that’s not the only thing about him that has evolved: at that point, when questioned about the possibility he might run, he scoffed, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.”

Read the full 2013 profile, here in the TIME archives: The Rebel

 

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