Fox Primary 2016: Rand Paul Courts Rupert Murdoch At The Kentucky Derby

The race is on to win the support of Fox News ahead of the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Republican Senator Rand Paul, often listed among likely 2016 presidential contenders, is apparently trying to court News Corp. executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, hosting the media mogul at this weekend's Kentucky Derby.

The New York Times quotes Paul saying he “thought it would be fun to have [Murdoch] come down,” and Murdoch explained his presence by clarifying he had never been to the Derby and offering that he finds Paul to be a “very interesting man.” But as the Times explains, the context for the day at the track is much grander than the two men's mutual interest in the event: the looming 2016 presidential race and Paul's desire to win the support of “arguably the most powerful broker in Republican politics.”

The Times lays out how Paul's “libertarian brand of politics” has prompted some concern among commentators at the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and Fox News Channel. Indeed, Murdoch himself has spoken out against Paul's views on foreign policy, telling Fortune magazine [subscription required] last month, “I agree with [Paul] on a great number of things but disagree strongly on some things -- too strongly perhaps to vote for him.” According to the Times, the day at the Derby was “part getting-to-know-you and part political audition, and marked a potential turn in the race for president.”

Murdoch and Paul's Kentucky Derby hangout isn't their first meeting, either. Paul reportedly met with Murdoch and Fox News chief Roger Ailes last November -- according to Politico, that meeting was similarly part of Paul's effort to “smooth concerns among Republicans and influencers about whether he shares his famous libertarian father's views on issues like national security.”

Winning the support of Murdoch and his sprawling media empire -- particularly Fox News -- has been a top priority for Republican candidates for the past decade, and with good reason.

In run-up to the 2012 election, the Republican primary basically played out on Fox's airwaves, with the network giving the equivalent of millions of dollars in free advertising time (and the ability to reach a wide conservative audience) to numerous potential candidates.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seemed primed to be the inevitable choice of Fox News for the 2016 Republican nomination. Christie had been showered with effusive praise for years by Fox personalities on-air, while off the air Ailes was reportedly aggressively lobbying Christie to throw his hat in the ring in 2012. The relationship soured after Christie embraced President Obama following Hurricane Sandy, with Murdoch threatening in a tweet that Christie, “while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney or take blame for next four dire years.” Christie eventually reaffirmed his support of Romney after reportedly calling Murdoch to plead his case. (Murdoch did leave the door open for Christie in his interview with Fortune, saying that “Christie could recover” - presumably a reference to the ongoing New Jersey bridge closure scandal.)

While Fox News and Republican voters are clearly undecided about where to throw their support for 2016, Rand Paul is apparently trying to make the most of the opening. So far in 2014, Paul has been a fixture on Fox News, appearing at least twenty times on the network's evening and Sunday programming alone (Nexis does not include transcripts for Fox's daytime broadcasts).

If Fox eventually gets behind a Paul nomination, it wouldn't be the first time they've boosted his political career. During his initial run for senate in Kentucky in 2010, Trey Grayson, Paul's opponent in that state's Republican primary, complained that Paul was on Fox “all of the time.” According to a Media Matters review, Paul had made at least 21 appearances on Fox News, Fox Business, and in the year leading up to the primary. Paul also announced his official Senate bid on Neil Cavuto's show and was endorsed on-air by Fox personalities like Dick Morris and Sarah Palin. After Paul's primary victory, Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano told viewers that he wouldn't “hide his enthusiasm,” because Paul's views “make such sense.”