CONCORD, N.H. — With its "Live Free or Die" motto, New Hampshire would seem to be tailor-made for the libertarian-flavored presidential campaign that Sen. Rand Paul is taking for a trial run.
But, as his father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, learned in 2012, translating the typical New Hampshire voter's skepticism about big government into Republican primary votes is easier said than done.
That's because the state's libertarian bent has been exaggerated, some Republicans say — and they already are predicting that Mr. Paul will have to move back to the middle to win over the moderates and independents who cast votes in the Granite State's GOP primary.
Mr. Paul, who represents Kentucky, told reporters Monday that he hopes his message can get beyond the GOP-libertarian divide.
"There is definitely evidence on the other side that the traditional, sort of cookie-cutter [candidate], either Republican or conservative, isn't selling well in New England," he said. "So, maybe we need to talk about something that is a little different."
Mr. Paul and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus were guests Monday at the state Republican Party Liberty Dinner, which sold out of tickets and attracted more than 500 people.
Mr. Paul told the crowd that the Republican Party has to expand its base to compete in national elections. "We need to be white, we need to be brown, we need to be black. We need to be with tattoos, without tattoos. With ponytails, without ponytails. With beards, without beards," he said. "We need to look like the rest of America. We need to be able to appeal to the working class. The message is big government is not just helping the haves, big government is hurting the have-nots as well."
"We need to be able to express that we are going to be the party that will allow them to join the rest of us in the middle class," he said.
Mr. Paul's trip has added to the growing speculation that the first-term senator is putting together a White House run, and follows an appearance this month at a GOP dinner in Iowa — the state with the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Over the coming months, Mr. Paul plans trips to South Carolina and Nevada, which could host the third and fourth contests on the nomination calendar.
Should he jump into the presidential race, the 50-year-old would start out with the advantage of a formidable political organization, fundraising network and loyal band of supporters left over from his father's presidential bid. The Texas libertarian icon captured roughly 23 percent of the vote in 2012, second only to eventual nominee Mitt Romney.
Former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O'Brien, a Republican, said he believes that Mr. Paul's political makeup meshes well with the electorate in his state and that he can build on his father's success.
"I think there is a general recognition that [the elder Mr. Paul] could not be president," Mr. O'Brien said. "When Rand is up here, I think people are surely thinking this man can be president."
But Andrew E. Smith, University of New Hampshire political science professor, countered that Mr. Paul "is not that good of a fit for New Hampshire."
"There is a myth that there are libertarian Republicans," Mr. Smith said. "That is really not the case. It is Rockefeller Republicans up here. Rand Paul is going to have to downplay the libertarianism and get more of the traditional mainstream Republicanism as well."
History indicates the professor has a point.
Conservative candidates such as Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Patrick J. Buchanan in 1996 have won in New Hampshire, but voters usually back more mainstream candidates: George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992, Sen. John McCain in 2000 and 2008, and Mr. Romney in 2012.
Michael Dennehy, a local GOP consultant, thinks Mr. Paul's independent style — not his libertarian views — could prove to be his biggest selling point with voters.
"I think it is yet to be seen how he could or would come across to New Hampshire voters, who scrutinize their candidates very carefully," Mr. Dennehy said. "But I do think they would like his independence, as they have liked the independent-styled candidacies of John McCain and Pat Buchanan."
Elected in the tea party wave of 2010, Mr. Paul has won headlines for leading a 13-hour filibuster against John O. Brennan's nomination as 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.
He has pushed a spending plan, which the Democrat-controlled Senate dismissed, to balance the budget within five years, and has said he opposes a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. Like his father, he has cautioned against military adventurism and has been one of the most vocal opponents of tighter gun control laws in the wake of the mass shooting last year at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 students and six adults dead.
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