POLITICS
04/07/2015 04:17 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2015

Can A Senator Run For President As An Outsider? Rand Paul Wants To Try

On Monday, the day before he officially announced his 2016 presidential campaign, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made a couple of small but revealing changes to his Twitter account.

First, he jettisoned his longtime handle -- @SenRandPaul -- and became simply @RandPaul. And second, where the politician had formerly identified himself as “Sen. Rand Paul” on the social media platform, as of Monday he was back to his previous professional moniker -- “Dr. Rand Paul.”

The apparent attempt to distance himself from the political arena was at least a little bit dubious.

Paul is a presidential candidate, after all.

Not only that, he has spent almost his entire life around politics. Paul was just 11 years old when his father -- Ron Paul, another doctor -- first ran for a U.S. House seat. The elder Paul was elected to Congress less than two years later.

But Rand Paul did, in fact, have a long career in medicine before getting into politics himself -- something he only did fairly recently, when he launched his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky in 2009.

In his remarks in Louisville, Kentucky, on Tuesday, the ophthalmologist-turned-presidential-candidate was quick to remind his audience that he'd like to be thought of as a physician first and a politician second.

“I was blessed to be able to do things that made a difference in people's lives as a physician,” Paul said. “With my parents' help, I was able to make it through long years of medical training to finally become an eye surgeon. For me, there is nothing that compares with helping someone see better.”

Passionate supporters of Ron Paul and passionate supporters of Rand Paul have this in common: Both groups tend to refer to their man as "Dr. Paul," rather than "Congressman" or "Senator."

The use of the medical honorific is a reminder of what many supporters of either Paul say they value so much about the candidates: While these men may be legislators who have lived and worked in Washington, D.C., they have never been of it.

It was an easy enough stance for the ideologically unyielding Ron Paul to pull off during his last two quixotic presidential campaigns. But it may prove a more difficult task for the son to manage, as Rand Paul works to maintain his father’s libertarian-leaning base while simultaneously massaging his message to attract other constituencies in an earnest effort to win the presidency.

Can a sitting U.S. senator really get away with running as a small-town doctor -- and, by implication, a political outsider -- at heart?

Paul’s first day as a candidate suggests that he's going to give it a serious shot.

“A physician is who I am,” Paul said in one of the videos his campaign played to the audience prior to the announcement. “That’s who I am. A physician.”

During his remarks on Tuesday, Paul spoke at length about a medical mission trip he took last August to Guatemala, where he and an accompanying team of surgeons operated on people with cataracts.

His recounting of this experience included an emotional story about a patient who was able to see his wife clearly for the first time in years after the surgery that Paul performed.

The newly minted candidate was not shy about drawing a parallel between his medical training and the problem-solving skills required in the White House.

“I was grateful to be able to put on my scrubs, peer into the oculars of the microscope and focus on the task at hand -- to take a surgical approach and fix a problem,” he said.

How serious is Paul’s campaign about emphasizing his medical background? His official campaign website currently features a Paul-themed eye chart available for the low price of $20.16. (Get it?)

“We need a president who can see clearly, so why not start with one that knows vision and sight better than any other candidate,” reads the accompanying description. “Dr. Rand Paul is an ophthalmologist (eye doctor), serving in the US Senate. Professionally, he has corrected the vision of thousands and now will do the same thing in the White House.”

It's easy to imagine that in the coming months, Paul will remind as many voters as he can that he had a long career in a field far outside of politics.

He’ll probably be less eager, however, to mention that in addition to his presidential bid, he's also running for another six-year term in the Senate.

One suspects that the former and sitting GOP governors competing with Paul for the White House -- all of whom, unlike Paul, live and work outside the nation’s capital -- will be happy to mention that fact whenever they feel it appropriate.

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