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Rand Paul tests, and roils, the political waters in N.H.

Senator Rand Paul met with members of the Londonderry Fish and Game Club Wednesday in New Hampshire.Jim Cole/Associated Press

MANCHESTER, N.H. — With the political world focused on a potential Republican presidential primary matchup between former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul traveled to New Hampshire on Wednesday and injected himself back into the national conversation with a series of provocative statements.

While state legislators ate eggs and drank coffee in a Manchester diner, Paul suggested that half of the recipients of federal disability relief are “gaming the system” because they are able to work. He also told them the arguments against building the Keystone XL pipeline are “this sort of Luddite, flat-earth, that my goodness we shouldn’t have cars” mentality.

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To gun-rights advocates at the Londonderry Fish and Game Club, he talked about how the militarization of local police forces contributes to the nation’s poor race relations. In Ferguson, Mo., he said, “It looks like the Army is there, so if you are an African-American in Ferguson, you think the white police have an army and they are after me.”

Speaking to education advocates at a Manchester charter school, he called for abolishing the US Department of Education and whacked the Common Core standards because, he said, they stifle innovation.

If those comments didn’t get him attention, he also offered reporters quotable zingers about his potential party rivals, dismissing Bush and Romney as “yesterday’s news.”

Paul also confirmed Wednesday that he hired a presidential campaign manager, even though he repeatedly said during the day he won’t make up his mind on whether he’ll run until March or April.

It was Paul’s comments about disability benefits that drew the most attention, largely because Democrats quickly pounced.

During a question-and-answer period, Paul was asked about government programs and welfare.

“You know, the thing is that all of these programs — there’s always somebody who is deserving. Everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system,” said Paul.

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“What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting a disability check,” Paul said. “You know, over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has a back pain.”

New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley called the comments “insulting” to those who collect disability payments, and “ridiculously reminiscent” of Romney’s statement in 2012 that 47 percent of Americans vote Democratic because they rely on government support.

“Paul is saying that 50 percent of those on disability are committing fraud,” he said.

Paul released a statement later in the day saying, “We absolutely should take care of those truly in need of help. But the system is broken, and when people can game the system, they are stealing from those who are truly disabled and won’t receive the care and aid they need.”

Rand Paul greeted a group of state legislators at Murphy’s Diner in Manchester, N.H.Brian Snyder/REUTERS

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James Pindell can be reached at James.Pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.