MILFORD, N.H. — There were no “Revolution” T-shirts or homemade “End the Fed” signs that filled his father’s New Hampshire town halls four years ago. Instead, at his Wednesday rally, the Kentucky Republican’s campaign motto served as the backdrop behind a stage with a teleprompter, while a slick blue “Rand” sign hung from the opposite balcony.
Senator Rand Paul’s path to the Republican presidential nomination goes something like this: He rallies supporters of his father — former representative and libertarian Ron Paul — from his last two presidential campaigns, while appealing to new, younger, and more mainstream party voters on his own.
But on the ground, there are already signs this strategy may not work as planned.
In New Hampshire, some Ron Paul supporters don’t see Rand as politically pure. In Iowa, key Ron Paul staffers have signed up with other candidates like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. In South Carolina, Ron Paul’s 2012 state campaign chairman said he is likely to sign up for Rand — but with reservations.
Rand Paul has twin challenges in preserving his father’s network. First, as he woos more traditional Republican primary voters, he risks losing support from his father’s backers. Secondly, with nearly 20 Republican hopefuls looking at the presidential race, previous Ron Paul voters have more options to register their discontent with the GOP establishment.
On Tuesday, Rand Paul’s campaign announcement started his delicate dance of retaining his dad’s following while becoming more palatable to other Republicans. And New Hampshire might be the place where Paul’s gamble has more risk than reward.
“Is Rand Paul in my top four or five candidates? Sure,” said New Hampshire state Senator Ray White. “But just because I supported his father doesn’t mean I am supporting the son. There are lots of good candidates this time around.”
In the 2012 primary, Ron Paul finished second to Mitt Romney with 23 percent of the vote. Recent polling in the Granite State puts Rand Paul in third place, barely reaching double digits and trailing Jeb Bush and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconson. With that math, Paul could erase his base by turning off his father’s troops.
Paul strategists and supporters acknowledge the risk of losing his father’s coalition, but they argue it’s worth it.
According to interviews with supporters and staff, the campaign expects 30 percent of Ron Paul supporters might be upset with Rand Paul’s shift from his father’s positions. But they also estimate they can make up ground by extending his appeal to other parts of the GOP electorate. What’s more, they believe that while that third of Ron Paul’s base voters are upset now, they will eventually support the younger Paul in the primary.
“Yes, the events and the environment is different from his father,” said state Senator Andy Sanborn, who co-chaired Ron Paul’s state campaign in 2012 and is expected to have a similar role for Rand Paul this year. “Ron was preaching to disciples. Rand is speaking to inquisitive skeptics of all kinds. But this is the only way we can grow.”
Nowhere is Rand Paul’s challenge more apparent than his foreign policy. Paul has struck a more hawkish view on foreign policy compared to his father, putting him more in line with other Republicans.
Four years ago, Ron Paul, a Texan, told an Iowa voter that Iran does not “threaten our national security.” His son told voters in New Hampshire Wednesday that Iran is “increasingly becoming a threat” and US military should be built up — as he vowed to “end the threat of radical Islam.”
But Rand Paul has also presented himself as more of a team player than his father by eventually endorsing Mitt Romney for president in 2012 and Scott Brown in his New Hampshire Senate race last fall — despite objections from many in his father’s base.
“For many liberty-minded New Hampshire Republicans the moment that Paul sold them out is when he endorsed Scott Brown,” said Jeff Chidester, a conservative talk radio host from Dover. “There is a lot of questions about how much he is willing to go to the center for his own ambition.”
This sentiment is echoed by former Republican New Hampshire representative George Lambert, a leading libertarian activist who backed Ron Paul in 2012.
“My daughter held signs in mid-winter 2008 to be sure our values were heard in the debate,” Lambert said. “With Ron those would be guaranteed topics in the debate; Rand brings no such guarantee.”
Beyond New Hampshire, three members of Iowa’s grass-roots liberty movement — typically Ron Paul supporters — are backing Cruz, the Texas senator.
Ron Paul’s 2012 South Carolina chairman, Dr. Michael Vasovski, said he doesn’t like Rand Paul’s more hawkish viewpoint on foreign policy. He’s especially concerned since Rand signed on to a letter with 46 other Republican senators telling Iranian leaders that any nuclear agreement reached without the approval of Congress could be revoked by the next president.
“I was very disappointed in Rand. It think it was wrong,” said Vasovski. “I think what they are doing now is wrong. It is a good deal, not a bad one, if it can keep us out of another war.”
New Hampshire state Representative J.R. Hoell, a Republican, said Rand Paul does have a lot of advantages from the groundwork laid down by his father, but there is still work to do.