Standing out among the giant field of potential GOP candidates is tough, but Sen. Rand Paul will likely have an easier time of it than the others when they descend on New Hampshire this week.
Mr. Paul’s more restrained foreign policy is likely to take hits from a number of his potential fellow candidates at the sold out “Republican Leadership Summit,” which will attract 19 GOP hopefuls to Nashua on Friday and Saturday — including a host of pointed critics of the Kentucky senator’s stance.
“Although he comes from a very different ideological perspective, in may respects he shares Obama’s perspective on foreign policy, where he thinks Americans presence in the world is provocative,” said John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., who is slated to speak. “You never know where he is going to come out on a national security issues because I think his principles are at odds with his ambition.”
Mr. Bolton said that the gathering will highlight that Mr. Paul is in “a separate category” from the rest of the speakers.
The sheer amount of speakers underscores the wide open nature of the GOP nomination race, which has started to take shape now that Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Mr. Paul have announced their candidacies.
Tom Rath, a veteran GOP operative, said it’s the most fluid race in decades.
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“I can’t remember a race with this many in, where you could make a plausible case that they could win,” Mr. Rath said, adding that he expects the field will start to sort itself out in coming weeks.
“We are not at the beginning or the end, but we are about at the end of the beginning,” Mr. Rath said. “My guess is that a lot of the people you will see this weekend will not run for present. But a surprising number will.”
The hefty field presents a number of different policy options for GOP voters to choose from.
Mr. Paul’s foreign policy will stack up against hawks such as Mr. Bolton, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rep. Peter King of New York, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has made several stops in New Hampshire this week.
Candidates also differ on illegal immigration, the pace of government spending and how vociferously the GOP should engage on thorny social issues.
The latest Real Clear Politics average of national polls shows that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Mr. Cruz and Mr. Paul are leading the pack.
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In New Hampshire, which hosts the first-in-the-nation primary, Mr. Walker, Mr. Bush, Mr. Paul and Mr. Christie are polling well.
For now, a big challenge for the rest of the field is to get traction — and that means garnering attention in crowd.
“If you are on one of these staffs you are trying to think of the best line that will make a headline,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester.
He said Mr. Paul, who is already popular in the state, tends to say things that are slightly controversial, and comes with a different approach toward things, including global issues, could have an upper hand on standing out.