Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul quits 2016 GOP presidential race

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Self-styled Washington outsider Rand Paul dropped his struggling Republican campaign for president Wednesday and is returning to the Senate to run for re-election.

Vowing to continue his drive for less-intrusive government and more restrained foreign policy, Paul, low on support and cash, said he looks forward to earning another Senate term representing Kentucky.

"I don't really have an absolute answer for what went on with the election and why people make their choices," Paul said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press Wednesday after a disappointing fifth-place finish in Iowa. "But I do think our voice was an important one and I think as people look backwards they are going to say they were happy to have my voice in the debate."

Asked whether he intends to endorse another candidate for president, Paul, a 53-year-old ophthalmologist, replied: "No."

It was an end long in the making. Paul launched his presidential candidacy determined to improve the Republican party's appeal with younger voters and to upend the way Washington works. But his appeals to reject American political dynasties and "to take our country back" were ultimately out-shouted by billionaire Donald Trump and relentlessly hawked by Sen. Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa caucuses Monday.

Also discordant was Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy, especially after Islamist-inspired attacks in Paris, San Bernadino, Calif. and elsewhere flared around the globe in 2015. Paul was low on the lifeblood of presidential campaigns, too — he had just over $1 million at the start of 2016, according to campaign finance records.

Paul's campaign initially seemed to capture the anti-establishment mood clearly settling over the electorate.

Though he's a senator — and the son of former Rep. Ron Paul — Rand Paul has been no go-along, get-along Washington insider. He was elected in the tea party-driven wave of 2010 and tangled often with GOP leaders.

In one defiant episode, Paul controlled the Senate floor in 2013 for almost 13 hours to hold up the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. Brennan had been President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, and Paul opposed the Obama administration's use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists.

But soon after announcing his candidacy, Paul began a series of stumbles that turned into displays of his thin-skinned personality — and raised questions about his medical credibility.

Paul said he had heard about "many tragic cases" of children who got vaccines and ended up with "profound mental disorders." That assertion has no basis in medical research. Paul at first blamed the uproar on "inaccuracies" in the media. He later said he believes vaccines are safe and that his own children are immunized. That came after Paul suggested that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the transmission of Ebola sound similar to that of AIDS. Ebola, he said, is easier to contract. Health authorities worldwide have said that Ebola is only transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids.

He bristled in interviews at questions about his father and abortion policy, and said "shhhhh" to a female television interviewer who challenged something he said.

In October, Paul embarked on an online event in which he answered hostile questions from Twitter users.

One asked if he's still running for president.

"I dunno," he answered. "I wouldn't be doing this dumbass live streaming if I weren't."

After qualifying for five prime-time debates — and enduring Trump's suggestion that he not bother running anymore — Paul was dropped from the sixth face-to-face confrontation. He was invited back for the seventh and final prime-time debate before the Iowa caucuses, drawing a roar from his supporters in the audience when he was introduced.


Kellman reported from Washington. AP writers Bill Barrow and Steve Peoples contributed to this report


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This story has been corrected to fix spelling of ophthalmologist in 4th paragraph.