Stand with Rand in 2016?
That's the question diehard Republicans will be mulling over Monday when Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul brings his presidential ambitions to New Hampshire, where he will be headlining a state GOP dinner.
The son of former Rep. Ron Paul, a three-time presidential contender from Texas, the younger Mr. Paul is openly eyeing a White House run and hopes to expand on the loyal bases of support his father cultivated over the years with his unbending brand of libertarianism.
"It is smart for Sen. Paul to come here now to start the grass-roots campaigning that you have to do to win New Hampshire," said Steve Duprey, a Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire. "New Hampshire has a strong libertarian streak and I think he has an opportunity to do well.
"His challenge," Mr. Duprey said, "will be to broaden the base his father had to appeal to independents and moderate Republicans."
The elder Mr. Paul had his best finish in the 2012 race in New Hampshire, placing second behind Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts who went on to win the party nomination before losing to President Obama in the general election.
More than a thousand days out from the first caucus and primaries, Rand Paul is in the midst of giving the nomination course a test run.
Eleven days ago, the freshman senator parachuted into Iowa, which kicks off the nomination contest with its caucuses. His stop in New Hampshire, the first primary state, comes ahead of planned visits to South Carolina and Nevada, which play host to stops No. 3 and No. 4 on the nomination calendar.
"If anyone thinks the 2016 campaign is not already in full gear, they're too involved in the medical marijuana issue," joked Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester.
Mr. Levesque said the trip gives Mr. Paul the chance to do the sort of retail politics that New Hampshire voters expect, and to lock in earlier supporters.
"I think he is definitely onto an effective strategy," Mr. Levesque said. "Candidates that wait until the last minute never do well here."
Mr. Paul and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus are headlining the first Liberty Dinner in Concord, the state capital. The event is sold-out, with tickets going for anywhere between $75 per person to $1,000 for VIP tickets that include a private pre-dinner reception and a picture with Mr. Paul.
The event comes a little over a week after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal headlined a fundraiser for the Republican Senate Majority Committee that drew about 50 people in nearby Manchester. It also follows a rocky few weeks for Mr. Obama — helping to energize a Republican Party that is looking to rebuild after failing to capitalize on a sluggish economy and high unemployment in 2012.
Mr. Paul rode into office on the tea party wave of 2010, and his limited-government message has made him a favorite of grass-roots conservatives.
The 50-year-old raised his national profile in March by leading a 13-hour filibuster of the nomination of John O. Brennan to be CIA director, threatening to block the confirmation vote until the Obama administration clarified that it will not use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.
The effort created a buzz in GOP circles, including in New Hampshire.
But it also drew the ire of GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina back in Washington, exposing a long simmering rift over national security between the libertarian-leaning and defense-minded wings of the party.
Mr. Paul countered at the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference that the "GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered." He followed that up with a win over Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the 2013 Washington Times-CPAC presidential preference straw poll.
Since then, he has pushed back against the Obama administration's push for tighter gun control laws, said states should decide same-sex marriage, and urged black voters to give the GOP a second look as part of his effort to broaden the party's base.
He also has taken the lead in criticizing the Democrat considered by many to be that party's standard bearer in 2016: former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
On Sunday, the Kentucky senator said he stands by his comments that his potential rival's handling of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi should "preclude her from holding higher office."
CNN's Candy Crowley asked if the Clinton-bashing was a politically motivated attempt to appeal to the GOP faithful in places like Iowa and New Hampshire.
"I've done it in every state and every stop because I think it's pretty important that she accept blame for not providing security," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "Whether it has political overtones or not, it really goes to the heart of who you are as secretary of state if you do not provide security for an embassy that's begging for it. That's absolutely a dereliction of duty, and she should have resigned and accepted blame for it."
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