Rand Paul tells Gwen Ifill he has hidden advantage in Iowa ground game

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Sen. Rand Paul touted his ground game and outreach to students in Iowa today, saying his campaign is organizing “dorm by dorm” to bring out the youth vote at the caucuses on Feb. 1.

In an interview with PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill on Thursday, the Kentucky Republican said that his campaign has a “real shot” of reaching its goal to draw 10,000 students to the polls next month — an ambitious goal for any GOP candidate, including the current front-runners, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and real estate developer Donald Trump.

The campaign is targeting students “on campus, really trying to organize dorm by dorm,” Paul said. “We have a really good ground game.”

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Paul said his campaign has placed 500,000 phone calls to voters across Iowa and has 1,000 precinct chairs in the state, more than any of his GOP rivals, with two weeks to go before voting begins.

Paul also defended his decision to seek the presidency and reelection to his Senate seat at the same time, an issue that has sparked growing controversy in his home state of Kentucky. Paul noted that the practice isn’t new, citing Lyndon Johnson and former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, both of whom ran simultaneously for president and the Senate.

And Paul also took time to criticize Trump, saying the developer’s support in the past for the 2008 bank bailout, single-payer health care and abortion disqualifies him as a serious conservative.

“He’s spent most of his life as a progressive Democrat,” Paul said, adding, “Really, there are a lot of things about Donald Trump that aren’t conservative.”

Paul, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and other GOP contenders have used that attack line against Trump for months, to little effect.

Trump led the Republican primary field with 33 percent in a national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released earlier this month. Cruz finished second at 20 percent, followed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio at 13 percent.

Paul registered 5 percent in the poll, good for a three-way tie for fifth place with Ohio Governor John Kasich and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

Paul cast himself as an outsider candidate when he launched his presidential campaign last April, and appeared, briefly, early on, to be a viable contender for the Republican nomination.

But Paul, who won election to the Senate on a wave of Tea Party support in 2010, has struggled to gain traction in a Republican primary dominated by louder anti-establishment voices on the right led by Trump and Cruz.

Paul’s message, especially his support for a limited U.S. role in international conflicts, has also fallen flat with conservative primary voters who support a tougher approach to national security issues and fighting terrorism.

The Kentucky Republican has hovered in the low single digits in national polls, and failed to qualify for the main stage at the GOP debate in North Charleston, S.C., last week.

Watch Gwen Ifill’s full interview with Sen. Rand Paul on Thursday’s PBS NewsHour.

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