Paul Steinhauser: Rand Paul's jam-packed day in NH
MANCHESTER - Sen. Rand Paul kicked off his first visit to New Hampshire since the midterm elections on friendly ground, at Murphy's Diner in downtown Manchester.
The first-term Republican senator from Kentucky, who appears to be gearing up for a presidential bid, spoke to around 20 state lawmakers before taking some questions. Many of those who came to listen to Paul were one-time supporters of his libertarian minded father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who ran in 2008 and 2012 for the GOP nomination. That included state Rep. Keith Murphy, the owner of Murphy's Diner and adjoining taproom.
Paul's message of a smaller and less obtrusive federal government played well with the activist audience.
"We should argue that it will help New Hampshire if we leave $100 million dollars more in New Hampshire next year, if we just leave it here and not send it to Washington," the senator said.
Paul also took shots at President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress for their opposition to the Keystone pipeline, saying some of them have "a luddite flat earth mentality."
"It's 'we shouldn't have cars.' We should define this as those who believe in a flat earth and those who don't," Paul added.
The senator also pushed for term limits for federal lawmakers, as well as a balanced budget amendment. He said a "national uprising" would be needed to get both proposals enacted.
Paul was also critical of those who try to take advantage of federal benefits for the disabled, saying, "everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system. 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."
While he says he won't decide on running for the White House until the spring, Wednesday's visit had a campaign feel to it. He was accompanied by a press aide from Washington and by Mike Biundo, a top strategist to RANDPAC and Paul's top adviser in New Hampshire.
The visit comes just a few days after Mitt Romney said he was considering a third run for the White House. Since Friday's comments, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee's been reaching out and making calls to leading Republican politicians and donors, and to top aides from his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. While Paul didn't bring up Romney in his comments to the crowd, he's been critical of Romney in recent days, telling reporters that "Romney's had his chance."
Paul's visit also comes as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is taking concrete steps towards launching a Republican presidential campaign. Paul has been critical of Bush's support for the federal Common Core educational standards. One of Paul's stops on Wednesday is at the Founders Academy, a charter school in Manchester, where he's expected to highlight his opposition to Common Core.
Paul privately met with Ted Gatsas, Manchester's Republican mayor. He also talked to gun rights supporters at the Londonderry Fish and Game Club, and in the late afternoon is scheduled to meet with business leaders and supporters at The Draft, a restaurant in Concord owned by state Sen. Andy Sanborn, who was also a big backer of the elder Paul. The senator will sit down with NH1 while at The Draft, and that interview can be seen on NH1 News on WBIN-TV at 5, 6 and 10 p.m.