(CNN) — Rand Paul isn't your run-of-the-mill Republican teasing 2016 ambitions.
It's early in the game, but Paul's crusade against government overreach and his willingness to buck the establishment GOP are turning heads. And his recent popularity has some arguing the Kentucky Republican might have some staying power.
"State of the Union" political panelists Newt Gingrich, Neera Tanden and Susan Page agree Paul is one of the most interesting among the potential 2016 presidential candidates.
"Here's a guy who's got Neera Tanden and Newt Gingrich in agreement that he's interesting and provocative -- and so I definitely think Rand Paul gets the 'most interesting Republican on the scene' prize for the past year," said Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
Page said Paul is "clearly a factor" going into the 2016 elections.
"And if anyone thought he was just Ron Paul Two -- that's clearly not the case," she said, referring to his father, who ran for the GOP nomination in 2008 and also ran for president in 1988 as a libertarian candidate. "He's carving out his own identity, it's distinctive. Sometimes he takes on Republicans, sometimes he takes on Democrats," she said.
The libertarian-leaning senator is fresh off 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.
"I think Rand Paul is actually raising profound questions that go right at the heart of the American establishment," said Gingrich, a co-host on CNN's "Crossfire" and former GOP House speaker. "Rand Paul is touching on a nerve here, which every conservative ought to take seriously."
Host Candy Crowley said Paul's interesting because he's "unpredictable on some issues."
Paul has been speaking and meeting with groups that largely voted for Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, like millennials.
"Part of his power with young people is that he's willing to take on not Democrats, but Republicans," said Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress.
A recent CNN/ORC International poll shows Paul is at the top of a crowded field of potential Republican presidential candidates, with 16% support among Republicans nationwide.
Gingrich said Hillary Clinton, who's seen as an unofficial front-runner for the White House on the Democrats' side, should take a page from Paul's book.
"Rand Paul has been the most consistently principled person talking about issues. And yeah, Neera's right, he takes on Republicans -- so what? That's good for America. I'd love to see Hillary take on Democrats with the same courage that Rand Paul is taking on Republicans," said Gingrich, who would not say which potential candidate he would support in the Republican primary.
Gingrich also warned that Clinton's extensive experience in Washington could hamper a potential White House run, if she decides to launch another campaign.
"First lady, senator, Secretary Clinton is very famous for being famous. And as long as she can continue to be famous, she will be famous," he said, tying her time as secretary of state to rocky U.S.-Russian relations today.
"The moment this race becomes about substance, she will start losing support, literally overnight," said Gingrich.
Looking to the nearer future, Page cautioned that characterizing Republicans as obstructionist might have less power in November's midterm elections, based on the results of a new USA Today/BPC poll. The national survey showed 51% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans say blocking bad laws should be a priority for Congress.
"We've seen a big shift in attitude toward what Congress should do," she said. "A majority now say, block bad laws. We also find Americans are more likely to say that we have this big political divide in America."