Paul Laying 2016 Groundwork in South Carolina

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Sen. Rand Paul FilibusterWASHINGTON (CNN)-

To say Rand Paul is testing the 2016 waters would be an amusing understatement. With trips to Iowa and New Hampshire lined up in May, the Kentucky senator is diving in head first.

Next up on his early state roadshow: South Carolina.

Paul is organizing a series of public and private appearances across the first-in-the-South primary state in June, GOP sources with knowledge with the plans told CNN. The trip is “an effort to get to know Republicans across the state,” as one person involved in the event-planning described it.

He’s also set to endorse Republican Mark Sanford in the special election in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, two sources familiar with the race said. The endorsement could come as soon as Tuesday.

Paul’s political organization will donate money to the South Carolina Republican Party for its get-out-the-vote effort in Sanford’s race against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, one source said. That election will be held on May 7.

Paul’s father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, was a conservative ally of Sanford’s when the two served in the House together in the 1990s.

Paul has no plans to campaign with Sanford in South Carolina.

Instead, Paul will visit the state on June 28. On his agenda are a lunch in Greenville and a barbecue dinner in Columbia, both designed to raise money for the South Carolina Republican Party.

But the libertarian-leaning Paul isn’t just targeting rank-and-file Republican voters: he’s also organizing a pair of “invitation-only liberty events” to court the conservative activists who were loyal to his father’s two presidential campaigns — the same activists who have been a thorn in the side of the state’s GOP establishment for years.

Since his 2010 Senate race, Paul has positioned himself as a libertarian who can be more palatable to the Republican mainstream than his father, but he has chafed some libertarian activists in the process.

Paul’s trip will come on the heels of another South Carolina appearance tinged with 2016 implications: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is headlining a major fundraiser for the South Carolina GOP in May.

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