Washington (CNN) - Rand Paul has long been very open about his ambitions for higher office, telling CNN as early as November 2012, just weeks after the last presidential election, of his interest in running for the White House.
And the Republican senator from Kentucky is on top of the pack in CNN's most recent poll in the hypothetical race for the 2016 GOP nomination.
[twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker'][twitter-follow screen_name='psteinhausercnn']
Now, Paul's become the first of the potential Republican White House contenders to put together a political organization in all 50 states. It's the latest sign that the senator is working to assemble a much wider network than his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, did when the longtime congressman from Texas made bids for the GOP nomination in 2008 and 2012 with extremely strong but narrow backing from libertarian-leaning voters.
A senior adviser to Paul confirms to CNN that the senator's 50-state network, first reported earlier Thursday by the Washington Post's Robert Costa, includes more than 200 people, including many who in the past have backed more tradition Republicans. The network is set up through Rand Paul Victory, the umbrella organization that includes Rand PAC, which is the senator's political action committee, and Rand Paul 2016, his Senate re-election campaign.
"It's a mix of folks that will help with finance efforts and with grassroots activist outreach. The people are a blend of traditional Republicans, conservative activists, and libertarians," Doug Stafford, Paul's chief political adviser, told CNN.
Another Paul aide said that the evolving organization means that there are "people ready and waiting to help" when Paul travels across the country.
The first-term senator has been making the rounds in the crucial early voting states in the presidential primary and caucus calendar, such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and Nevada, and has addressed grassroots conservative audiences across the country.
Paul's efforts in building a network in Iowa, which kicks off the caucus and primary season, are well underway.
"A lot of Iowans are excited about the prospect of Senator Paul running for President. They've seen his ability to unite a broad spectrum of conservatives and attract young people and independents," David Fischer, co-chairman of Ron Paul's 2012 efforts in Iowa and a former co-chairman of the state's Republican party, told CNN.
But Paul has also traveled to spots that GOP lawmakers rarely venture. The most recent example: earlier this month Paul gave a speech at the historically liberal-leaning University of California at Berkeley, where he talked about the National Security Agency's surveillance program and the Republican Party's need for change.
The trip was part of Paul's effort to appeal to younger voters and minorities, groups that traditionally favor Democrats.
Earlier this month, Paul won the much-watched GOP presidential nomination straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference. It was the second straight victory for Paul at CPAC, where his speech was well received.
A week after this year's CPAC, Paul came out on top at a straw poll at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in New Hampshire.
As Paul works to broaden his base of support, he's done something his father never did - top the list of potential Republican presidential candidates in a national poll.
According to a CNN/ORC International survey conducted earlier this month, 16% of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP said they would be likely to support Paul for the 2016 nomination. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, was one point back, at 15%.
Longtime Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who's considering another bid for the White House, was at 11% in the poll, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who's also mulling another campaign, was at 10%.