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March 28, 2017

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Rand Paul’s Cliven Bundy conundrum

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John Locher / AP

Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., right, attends a political event Monday, June 29, 2015, in Mesquite. Carol Bundy and Cliven Bundy stand nearby. Cliven Bundy garnered national attention last year when armed supporters and he engaged in a showdown with federal authorities attempting to round up his cattle.

Nevada could be a slam dunk for Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in the upcoming GOP caucus. In 2012, libertarian supporters propelled a strong challenge by his father, former Texas congressman Ron Paul, against the eventual nominee Mitt Romney. The younger Paul hopes to capitalize on that base, but also to attract a wider range of voters.

But his controversial rendezvous with Cliven Bundy this week exemplifies the difficulty the candidate will have in rallying his father’s core of supporters while also wooing the moderates necessary to win the state’s Republican presidential caucus. If he leans too far to the center, he risks alienating the libertarians. But if he leans too far the other way, he risks losing mainstream support.

Bundy, the Bunkerville rancher who’s currently under a Justice Department investigation for refusing to pay more than $1 million in back taxes said he was “in tune” with Paul after the two met at a town-hall style meeting on Monday. Bundy also said he had a private, 45-minute meeting with the candidate. Paul's staff denied the encounter lasted that long or was planned.

“I don’t think those are the headlines his campaign wanted coming out of this visit,” David Damore, associate professor of political science at UNLV, said of the controversy.

While Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management officials last year launched him into political fame, he quickly alienated moderate Republicans.

In Mesquite, Paul embraced a tenet of Bundy’s politics, saying that federal lands should be handed over to states.

In Nevada, the federal lands issue may not make or break the campaign, Damore said, but that hasn’t stopped conservative Republicans from pushing the issue. In the most recent session of the Legislature, right-wing lawmakers tried to pass a bill that would relinquish the majority of federal lands in the state to Nevada.

Bundy traveled to Carson City to rally support for the measure, which failed to gain traction.

The Republican leadership — which controls both the Assembly and the Senate — didn’t move on it. On top of that, the Legislature’s legal counsel ruled it illegal.

In his 2012 campaign, the elder Paul said he opposed the federal ownership of any public lands. But as this week showed, those same positions — and their associations — may hurt his son.

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