- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

MILFORD, N.H. | Rand Paul did most but not quite all of what he had to do in officially opening his Republican presidential nomination campaign in all-important New Hampshire on Wednesday.

With snow beginning to fall in a gray sky outside the town hall in this tiny south central town with a population of 15,000, the Kentucky senator, in blue jeans, well-worn brown cowboy boots and a blazer, gave a rousing speech to some 350 local citizens.

Almost all were registered Republicans. None responded to shouted calls from a reporter for independents to raise their hands. Some in the small room on the second floor of the town hall generously offered to be interviewed as if they were independents. They made the offer with a smile.

Independents — called “undeclareds” in this state — can vote in the Feb. 9 Republican presidential preference primary. With the Democratic primary appearing to be over before it starts, larger than normal numbers of independents were expected to vote in the GOP primary.

Most said they weren’t there to “Stand with Rand” necessarily. They insisted they are still window shopping for a nominee who can defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the assumed Democratic nominee. Publicly claiming neutrality is the equivalent of the company line for New Hampshire residents. For them, holding the first primary election in every presidential election cycle is an industry as well as a civic duty.

“When the founders of New Hampshire came up with motto: ‘Live free or die,’ they didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room,” Mr. Paul said first off the bat.

The words are guaranteed to send a tingle up the backs of an audience in a state populated by skeptics of government in general and of spending by government in particular but not inclined to social conservatism.

“A government that takes half your paycheck does not leave you free,” Mr. Paul said. “A government that sifts through your personal records does not leave you free.”

The crowd roared approval. The diminutive first-term senator who had led a one-man, 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor in opposition to the use of drones against American citizens was off to the kind of fast start he wanted in a state that is, on paper, tailor made for his message of personal freedom at home and caution in intervention abroad.

An opponent of abortion as is his father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the Kentuckian responded to a question during a post-rally a question-and-answer session with the press about what exceptions he would make to state laws banning abortions.

His response, calculated to keep as many of the no-exceptions evangelical and other social conservatives he has cultivated from turning away, was that when the Democratic National Committee answers whether it’s OK to abort a “seven pound baby” as yet unborn, people can come back and ask him about exceptions.

But he didn’t do as well on another major vulnerability — the use of the word “isolationist” to describe his opposition to the U.S. employing its military in nation-building projects and foreign civil wars.

The “isolationism” tag that the press and GOP presidential nomination rivals pasted on Pat Buchanan helped kill his bid to take the nomination from President George H.W. Bush in 1992, despite Mr. Buchanan’s apparent early popularity in New Hampshire.

People attending the Paul rally here said in interviews either that they feared his being tagged as an isolationist or in some cases they said they feared he may be isolationist.

Mr. Paul and his advisers are acutely aware of the danger that impression poses to his success as a candidate. He has been looking for ways to say his own reluctance to see Washington intervene militarily abroad is a position of strength for the U.S. ultimately.

“I envision an America with a National Defense unparalleled, undefeatable, and unencumbered by overseas nation building,” he said if in direct response to isolationist accusations.

“Conservatives should not succumb to the notion that a government inept at home will somehow succeed in building nations abroad,” he said, to “yes” responses in the audience.

In his press briefing here, he was reminded that opponents are denigrating him as weak for having once implied that America’s security is not threatened by Iran’s having one nuclear weapon.

“I think Iran has always been a danger whether or not Iran has a nuclear weapon. Over time, the risk of them having a nuclear weapon has increased,” he said.

“Events do change. Iran has always been a threat but I think they’re increasingly” so, he said. “So I’m not sure [if] it’s my view has changed on whether Iran is a threat, or that Iran has become more of a threat over the last eight years.”

Whether the case he made for restrained interventionism on Wednesday walks that line is unknowable this early.

And then he brought in the one Republican president a recent poll shows New Hampherites like far more than the two named Bush.

“I envision a National Defense that promotes, as Reagan put it, ‘Peace through Strength,’” Mr. Paul said. “We must realize, though, that we do not project strength by borrowing money from China to send it to Pakistan.”

The kind of people who filled the town hall for the Paul rally was typified by Tom Barton, 57, from Washington, New Hampshire, who said he founded a national organization called “Liberty Republicans.”

Its aim, he said, is to bring libertarians into the GOP and to draw Republicans closer to libertarian views.

And what does “Liberty Republican” mean exactly?

“Someone who is extremely fiscally conservative and socially tolerant,” he said. “The past couple of decades the conservative movement has gotten more socially intolerant.”

The description matched pretty closely the picture Mr. Paul painted of himself here in Milford.

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