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Rand Paul as Howard Dean?

By Mark Murray
http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/rand-paul-howard-...

Political observers are divided on this question in advance of this week's Conservative Political Action Conference in the D.C. area -- has Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., emerged as the GOP's 2016 front-runner?

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar say yes, especially with the scandals rocking New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration.

Slate's Dave Weigel says no, citing Paul's father's association with some controversial figures and voices.

But here's a middle ground and perhaps a different way to view Paul: He has the potential to be a Howard Dean -- someone promising to change his party's thinking who has the potential to catch fire, but who also has the potential to fizzle out.

Like Dean with his opposition to the Iraq war, Paul wants to fundamentally change the Republican Party’s hawkish national-security and foreign-policy tendencies. “America has never backed down from a fight-but we should never be a nation that is eager to get involved in nations' conflicts that work against our own national security,” he said in a Nov. 2013 speech.

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