Laying the groundwork this weekend for likely White House bids, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal reached out to Republican voters in the two states that open the presidential nomination race — sounding the unofficial starting gun of the 2016 campaign.
Mr. Paul, 50, and Mr. Jindal, 41, are thought to be among the front-runners for the GOP nomination, and the dueling appearances in Iowa, home to the caucuses that kick off the competition, and New Hampshire, home to the first primary in the nation, provided a glimpse into where they’d like to steer the party.
Speaking at the Iowa Lincoln Day Dinner in Cedar Rapids, Mr. Paul said the party must broaden its appeal and soften its rhetoric on immigration if it hopes to attract Hispanic voters.
“We have to change the way we are talking about [immigration] … if we want to attract Latino vote. We need to treat immigrants with dignity and respect,” he said.
He spoke in a casual manner, standing beside a lectern, and he warmed up the crowd with jokes about the Federal Reserve, “Obamacare” and the sequester spending cuts before taking aim at the way former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton handled the attacks on a consulate in Benghazi, which led to the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
“It was inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty and it should preclude her from holding higher office,” Mr. Paul said, sparking a round of applause.
Mr. Jindal, meanwhile, told attendees at a Republican Senate Majority Committee fundraiser in Manchester, N.H., that the GOP must be the party of “growth and opportunity” and fight to expand school choice.
“We should stand as a party and as a conservative movement for providing a great education to every child in this state and in this country,” Mr. Jindal said, adding that there are too many children trapped in neighborhoods with bad public schools.
Mr. Jindal touted the school choice programs that have been adopted in Louisiana, saying they have strengthened student achievement, and rewarded teachers on performance, rather than tenure.
“It is letting the dollars follow the kids and putting a great teacher in every classroom,” he said. “This is the right thing to do for our states, our country. It also is the right thing for us to do as a Republican Party.”
The speeches came roughly six months after the 2012 election in which President Obama won overwhelming support from women, young voters and Hispanics.
Republicans also failed to pick up seats in the House and Senate despite sluggish economic growth and high unemployment.
The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics ranks Mr. Paul and Mr. Jindal in the second tier of potential GOP contenders, placing them behind Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Mr. Paul, hoping to build on the political movement launched by his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, is making the case that his libertarian brand of politics can attract voters that turned away from Republicans in the last two presidential elections.
Mr. Paul, who is also slated to speak at a New Hampshire fundraiser next week and a South Carolina fundraiser in June, raised his national profile two months ago with a 13-hour filibuster that forced the Obama administration to clarify its position on the use of drones against U.S. citizens accused of being linked to terrorists.
Mr. Jindal, meanwhile, was the first Indian-American governor to be elected in any state.
He has supported a federal marriage amendment and won kudos from conservatives for the way he has fought to increase school choice and to overhaul Louisiana’s tax code.
After the 2012 election, Mr. Jindal criticized Mr. Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remark, and said the GOP needs to stop being the “stupid” party.
“What I meant by that was we’ve got to present thoughtful policy solutions to the American people — not just bumper stickers, not just 30-second solutions,” Mr. Jindal said Friday. “We have to have the confidence and the courage in our convictions and show them that our ideas will benefit them.”
Steven Duprey, a Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire who ran Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign in the state, said that Mr. Jindal’s appearance in the Granite State is a smart move.
“For candidates who might not have as much money as some others, or who aren’t yet nationally known, this is a great time to come to New Hampshire to start to introduce themselves and to listen to what New Hampshire voters are concerned about,” Mr. Duprey said. “Anyone who thinks the Republican rules only favor the better-known and better-funded candidates should not complain. Instead they should come to New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada. There are lots of low fares to each of those states.”