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Rand Paul's NSA Lawsuit Helps Him Lay Claim To A Big Issue

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in front of the federal district court in Washington, where he filed his lawsuit against the Obama administration and the NSA.

hide captionSen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in front of the federal district court in Washington, where he filed his lawsuit against the Obama administration and the NSA.

Charles Dharapak/AP

By filing his lawsuit against the Obama administration, including the National Security Agency, over the intelligence agency's collection of phone call data, Sen. Rand Paul now has ownership of a major issue in a way no other potential 2016 presidential candidate can lay claim.

Paul was there early, and his lawsuit will help him prove that. While the best that other Republican presidential candidates will be able to do is rhetorically inveigh against the NSA, Paul will be able to say he did more — he sued them.

The revelations by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden have raised concerns, particularly among Republicans and many younger voters, about the potential for Big Brother-style government abuse.

By staking out a high-profile position on this issue, Paul, a Kentucky Republican who filed suit along with Freedomworks, the Tea Party group, can increase his appeal to the segment of voters who have been most alarmed by the Snowden disclosures.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll suggested that voters are split in their support or opposition to the NSA program. Voters who identified as political independents — the type of voters Paul showed particular appeal to in his Senate race — are especially troubled by what Snowden revealed. Furthermore, younger voters opposed to the data-collection effort outstripped those who supported it by 12 percentage points.

The lawsuit also comes with a potential problem for Paul, however. As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank reported, well-known Washington, D.C., constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein has complained that Paul's lawsuit contains his intellectual work. Paul's communications director didn't return my call or email request for comment. Fein also did not respond to my request to discuss the issue.

This conjures up the plagiarism controversy of last year that it seemed Paul had finally gotten past, the accusation that he had used others' lines in his speeches without proper attribution. So for Paul, the lawsuit may wind up cutting both ways.

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