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Rand Paul vs. Ted Cruz: Why one of them is winning over the press

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Shown here are Sen. Rand Paul, left, and Sen. Ted Cruz.AP

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An O’Reilly-Obama initiative

Triumph of the Internet

Rand Paul vs. Ted Cruz: Why one of them is winning over the press

The two freshmen senators are media magnets, brash brand-builders often at odds with their party as they eye a White House run.

But Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are starting to draw very different treatment from the press. Paul is getting positive coverage, sometimes grudgingly, while Cruz is increasingly being portrayed as a difficult loner.

It’s not about their ideology — both Republicans are staunch conservatives — as much as their style. And style counts a great deal with the Beltway pundits.

Take, for instance, this National Journal piece declaring Paul “the GOP’s early front-runner.” However ephemeral the designation, this is remarkable, given that the Kentucky senator was originally viewed as an extension of his father, perennial candidate Ron Paul, whose hard-line libertarianism was often dismissed by the media as part of a fringe movement. 

But Rand Paul is not his dad. The story begins with a slap that practically casts Paul as unelectable, but gives him his due:

“The Kentuckian scares the living daylights out of many Republicans looking for an electable nominee capable of challenging Hillary Clinton. At the same time, he's working overtime to broaden the party's image outside its traditional avenues of support. The 2016 Republican nominating fight will go a long way toward determining whether Paul is the modern version of Barry Goldwater or at the leading edge of a new, more libertarian brand of Republicanism.”

Goldwater, you may recall, won six states in 1964.

National Journal ticks off some of Paul’s possible liabilities: He has some controversial associations, has questioned the ’64 Civil Rights Act and is outside the party consensus in opposing an interventionist foreign policy.

Still, “the politics of the 2016 Republican nomination look increasingly favorable to Paul. He is one of the top fundraisers in the field, has a ready-made base of support from his father's presidential networks, and has proven his savvy political instincts with a made-for-TV drone filibuster and NSA lawsuit.”

Paul has also roused the base with his constant attacks on Bill Clinton as a sexual predator—which he repeated on Tuesday when the former president visited his state to campaign for Allison Grimes, who is challenging Mitch McConnell. Paul’s anti-Clinton campaign has morphed from a couple of jabs on “Meet the Press” to a sustained attack, and while it may have little impact on Hillary, it never fails to generate headlines.

Contrast Paul’s coverage with this Politico piece on Ted Cruz:

“Cruz said last fall he wouldn’t raise money for a controversial group attacking fellow Republicans. But the Texas senator has since written a fundraising missive for another conservative group that’s backing the primary challengers to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and others.”

The so-called Madison Project has targeted a number of Republican senators, and the Cruz letter “asks donors to ‘pull out all the stops’ to elect ‘solid, principled, conservative fighters’ who will ‘not answer to the party bosses in Washington, D.C.’” 

Cruz, of course, was the face of the government shutdown, which most establishment Republicans thought was a fiasco for the party. It’s not that they disagreed with his avowed goal of defunding ObamaCare, it’s that they thought his tactics were self-destructive, since in the end the GOP didn’t have the votes.

Cruz was at it again this month, when John Boehner and company had essentially decided to roll over on the debt-ceiling fight and give the White House a “clean” extension. By demanding that the Senate muster 60 votes, Cruz forced McConnell and fellow Texan John Cornyn, both of whom are in primaries, to support the bill, rather than spook the markets with the prospect of a government default.

But Cruz has a passionate following among conservative activists, in part because he refuses to be a team player. And he’s “political gold” in Texas, says one political scientist quoted by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about next week’s primaries back home.

“His likeness is all over TV and in campaign materials, as a slew of Republican candidates on the primary ballot are using his words and — in rare occasions — his endorsement to reach out to voters.”

Both senators are now a factor in the early presidential chatter. In a CBS/New York Times poll, 39 percent of Republicans said they wanted Paul to run for president, compared with 21 percent who said no and 39 percent who didn’t know enough about him to offer an opinion. Paul was just a tick behind Jeb Bush, who 41 percent want to run.

In the same survey, 24 percent said they hoped Cruz would run, 15 percent did not, and 59 percent did not know enough to say.

By the way, 82 percent of Democrats want Hillary to run, with only 13 percent opposed. So the eventual GOP nominee has his work cut out for him when it comes to unifying the party. 

An O’Reilly-Obama initiative

Bill O’Reilly will be with the president at the White House Thursday — in a very different capacity than during their Super Bowl interview.

O’Reilly is attending the announcement of the My Brother’s Keeper project, aimed at reducing the number of fatherless families and out-of-wedlock babies — the very subject that O’Reilly pressed Obama about in their game-day sitdown.

That’s right, a Fox News-White House alliance, at least on this subject and with this prime-time host. And it may prove controversial, in that some people may object to the heavy hand of government trying to promote morality.

O’Reilly, who made the announcement on his show, makes the case that the collapse of traditional families hurts the country in many ways, as reflected in dropout rates, crime and other societal ills. The president responded in the interview that he has urged black males to take responsibility for their kids and their families.

This may be an odd-couple pairing, but it will bring the media spotlight to a difficult problem that receives far too little attention.

Triumph of the Internet

The Internet now rules — 87 percent of American adults use it — and for the most part, they’re pretty happy with life online.

On the 25th anniversary of what was once called the World Wide Web, a Pew Internet survey finds that 90 percent of those polled say the Net has been good for them personally, and 76 percent say it’s been good for society. Only 6 percent say it’s been bad for them, and 15 percent bad for society.

Also, two-thirds say online communication has strengthened their relationship with friends and family, and 18 percent say it weakens those bonds.

And 90 percent of adults say they have a cellphone (remember landlines?), with two-thirds using them for online access.

It’s not all a bed of roses. Some 25 percent say they have been treated unkindly or attacked online, but 70 percent say they have been treated kindly and generously.

As the Pew study reminds us, the digital revolution has utterly transformed our lives, to the point where it’s hard to fathom how we got along without being wired. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.