Dallas, Texas (CNN) – Texas is a vast and diverse state with sprawling urban centers and wide open pastures, but sometimes the political universe here can feel pretty small.
Rand Paul, the Kentucky Senator and Republican presidential aspirant, was reminded of this on Friday.
Arriving in Dallas at the outset of a multi-day visit to the state, Paul spent Friday meeting with a handful of financial supporters and assorted Republican politicians. On leaving the office of one of the city’s GOP donors, Paul bumped into a familiar face: Ted Cruz, his fellow Senator from Texas and another ambitious Republican who is courting grassroots conservatives in advance of a possible presidential bid.
Cruz was walking in to meet with the very same donor. The two Senators, who have something of a chilly relationship, exchanged hellos before Paul went on to his next stop.
Though Paul crossed paths with one of his rivals, his visit to Texas was hardly a risky mission behind enemy lines. Paul grew up outside of Houston, attended Baylor University and pays frequent visits to his mother and father, the former congressman and libertarian icon Ron Paul.
As he put it on Friday, “I speak fluent Texan.”
Paul’s first public appearance here was on friendly political turf: He headlined a rally in Dallas for a Republican candidate named Don Huffines, a family friend and real estate developer who is mounting a primary challenge against an entrenched state Senate incumbent with appeals to the tea party, libertarians and evangelicals. They were joined at the event by author and radio host Glenn Beck, a Dallas resident who spent the afternoon with Paul.
Trying to stir a polite crowd of several hundred supporters inside the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field, the mild-mannered Huffines delivered a cascade of tea party bromides aimed squarely at the fiery conservative base that has come to dominate Republican politics in Texas.
“I will not compromise my faith in God,” Huffines said. “I will not compromise my Constitutional convictions. I will not compromise my core beliefs in liberty.”
Paul, in slacks and a blazer, spoke briefly, riffing in his low-key style about the dangers of government overreach and the inability of politicians in both parties to make tough decisions about spending. He criticized the federal budget deal put together by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray late last year, saying that “spending is now going up again” in Washington.
But Paul’s Texas tour was not all tea party fire and brimstone.
In an interview with CNN before the event, Paul revealed that he met with George P. Bush, a candidate for Texas Land Commissioner. Bush also happens to be the 37-year old son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose name continues to surface in discussions about the 2016 Republican presidential race.
The younger Bush and Paul hail from starkly different wings of their party: Bush is considered the political heir apparent in a family that helped construct the very Republican establishment that Paul and his father have been sniping at from the party’s fringes for decades.
Paul said he had no plans to endorse Bush in the Land Commissioner race, but he said they agreed on the need to expand the Republican Party’s appeal to Hispanic voters and working class Americans. Bush’s mother is originally from Mexico, and he speaks effortless Spanish.
“I think the fact that he is a fluent Spanish speaker and spoken to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, it’s good for our party,” Paul said of George P. Bush. “I think having people who are trying to make the party bigger is good. The party has to be bigger across the country, not only appealing to people of various ethnic background but various economic backgrounds.”
The private huddle with a scion of the Bush dynasty was the latest indicator that Paul is keen on making nice with establishment Republicans as he sketches out a possible presidential bid that can reach voters outside of his grassroots, small-government base.
But despite his courtship with the party’s civil country club set, he remained pugnacious when asked about his recent spate of comments about Bill and Hillary Clinton. Paul has invoked the former president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as evidence of the Democratic Party’s hypocrisy on the issue of women’s' rights, going so far as to call Bill Clinton a “sexual predator.”
He echoed those remarks on Friday. He predicted that Hillary Clinton will have to answer questions her husband’s affair if she decides to run for president in 2016.
“It isn’t her fault the way her husband’s behaved,” Paul told CNN. “But at the same time, I think that they are a fundraising team. He does a lot of fundraising for candidates. I think if they want to beat up on Republicans and say Republicans don’t like women, I think that one of the big things that we advanced in the last several decades is that women are protected in the workplace.”
“I’m sure Don would tell you he would fire anybody that took advantage of a 20 years old girl,” Paul said, referring to Hoffines. “If one of his managers had the same kind of problems that Bill Clinton had with a 20-year old girl, he wouldn’t work for him anymore. It’s not acceptable behavior, and yet they are out there saying they are the great crusaders for women’s rights. I think that’s some hypocrisy that they will have to explain.”