- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

NASHUA, N.H. — Republicans in this state are virtually of one mind about their first-in-the-nation presidential preference primary Feb. 9, but only when pushed, and in most cases only when the questioner is sworn to secrecy.

For the record, nearly everyone in this state says the Republican primary election is wide open.

“At least one of the major candidates is likely to crash and burn. You just can’t be sure which one it will be yet,” said Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman.

But push the question as to who is the likeliest winner at this early stage, and Jeb Bush emerges as the answer.

Most agree that the former Florida governor has the access to big money, the potential for a top-notch campaign staff, and high name recognition among New Hampshire’s socially moderate, fiscally conservative Republicans and independents.

However, that sense of inevitability also is Mr. Bush’s greatest vulnerability, which means the state’s Republican voters have an appetite for one anti-Bush candidate to rise as the main challenger.

New Hampshire voters will get their first view of the latest officially announced candidate Wednesday, when Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky arrives, and they are already sizing him up as a potential threat to Mr. Bush.

Rand starts with a solid libertarian base and a good New Hampshire team behind him,” said Steve Duprey, a Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire and former state GOP chairman.

Rand needs to win New Hampshire,” Mr. Duprey said. “We have a strong libertarian streak here, and if he can’t win here I think it is unlikely he could win anywhere.”

Mr. Duprey said Mr. Paul’s challenge will be to expand beyond his libertarian base of youthful enthusiasts to include fiscal conservatives and some mainstream conservatives.

“He has to do that without alienating his base,” Mr. Duprey said. “He definitely has appeal to younger voters, and I admire his outreach to college students.”

“I think Rand Paul could win the New Hampshire primary — and here’s how,” said David Carney, a veteran Republican presidential campaign strategist based in New Hampshire. “Bring young people into the game — the folks who represent small-l libertarianism. He talks their talk. He reaches out to them. He is not just talking to young conservatives on campus but to all people on campuses.”

The question for a candidate who wants to win with millennials is this: Are there enough of them to matter?

“No, you can’t win with them alone, but you can continue to build your libertarian base. His father did that pretty well,” Mr. Carney said.

Rand Paul will look like a giant among midgets if the rest of the field is all getting single digits or slightly above,” said Mr. Carney. “With a field so full of candidates as I expect it to be even come February, it won’t take even 30 percent to win the primary.”

A problem for Mr. Paul is that the state of world affairs does not play to his strengths, as Mr. Duprey sees it. He notes that New Hampshire is a pro-military state and generally does not have an “isolationist bent. So some of his foreign policy positions, particularly past ones, could make it difficult for him.”

Only Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mr. Paul have had official initiations of their candidacies. Yet the strategists for their campaigns and for each of the unofficial candidates is asking this question: If the New Hampshire primary were tomorrow instead of 10 months from now, who would likely win?

That is how campaign organizations begin to lay out a course and pack in as much contingency planning as possible, because nothing ever goes quite as expected.

David Paleologos’ poll of 500 randomly selected people who are considered likely to vote in New Hampshire’s Republican primary was revealing.

His sample included registered Republicans and independents (called “undeclared”) and a few Democrats who plan to re-register. In New Hampshire, the Republican primary is open to registered Republicans and independents but not to registered Democrats.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush won handily, with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker second and Mr. Paul a distant third. Name identification was important because the others, including Mr. Paul, were not well-known in the state and Mr. Walker was getting national attention.

When the moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats were purged from Mr. Paleologos’ sample, things took a sharp turn in Mr. Walker’s favor. The Wisconsin governor led the poll with a plurality of 20 percent.

What most politicians and analysts agree is that Mr. Paul has to make himself the anti-Bush candidate to win New Hampshire and probably to win the nomination. He can’t let Mr. Walker be the anti-Bush candidate.

That doesn’t mean Mr. Paul has to attack Mr. Bush. It may be better to stick with the Paul “take back your country” language that makes people think of Ronald Reagan, Mr. Paleologos said.

Why Mr. Reagan after all these years?

When asked in Mr. Paleologos’ poll which of the past three Republican presidents — George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan — was their favorite president, 76 percent said Mr. Reagan, 6 percent chose George W. Bush and 14 percent chose his father.

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