By Nancy Gibbs
October 16, 2014

Calling Rand Paul the most interesting man in politics is an invitation to an argument–but one we suspect he’d love to have. Paul shows no signs of wanting to slide smoothly into the national political debate; he’d rather start a new one, about the fault lines between privacy and security, about when a war is worth fighting, about how his party can have a hope of winning the White House while losing ground with key voting blocs.

Our Washington bureau chief Michael Scherer has profiled a wide range of political brands and firebrands, from Michael Bloomberg to Chris Christie and, of course, Barack Obama. But in Senator Paul, an occasional contributor to TIME.com, he found a higher than normal complexity count as he followed him along the campaign trail from South Carolina to Missouri to his home state of Kentucky. Paul is defined by his bold stands but is extremely cautious about how he presents them. He promotes simple, lofty ideas, but the details of implementation are often down in the weeds. He harbors immense ambition to both remake his party’s appeal and make libertarian ideals salable to voters–he called himself “libertarianish” before a group of pastors he met in North Carolina. “Most candidates are just looking for ways to fill in old boxes,” Scherer observes. “He is arguing that you can color inside and outside the lines at the same time.”

It is striking that we now have three families–the Bushes, the Pauls and the Clintons–near center stage in American politics. Those clans are a reminder that families are even more complicated than politics. Rand Paul does not like being compared to his father Ron any more than sons named Bush like to dance in their father’s shadow, but the crucial difference is that while the Bushes all hail from the relative mainstream of the GOP, the Pauls have an ideological tributary virtually to themselves.

Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR

NOW ON TIME.COM

From now until Veterans Day, we’ll be featuring dozens of stories about the impact of war–on those who serve and on the people who support them, including Ginger Miller (left, with her husband in 1989), who worked her way out of homelessness after being medically discharged from the Navy following the first Gulf War. For more, visit time.com/vets.

PROGRESS REPORT

Since late January, the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin–the focus of Jeffrey Kluger’s June 2 cover story on new ways to care for premature babies–has treated nearly 500 preemies, including two we featured in our issue.

Cover subject Emalyn Randolph, left, born March 31, is now 6 months old and nearing 14 lb. David Joyce, below, born Jan. 28 at 2 lb. 11 oz., weighs in at 18 lb. 3 oz. He’ll be a pumpkin for Halloween.

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Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the October 27, 2014 issue of TIME.

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