It wasn’t that long ago that U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky declared he had to win the early voting state of New Hampshire to gain the momentum that would carry him to the Republican presidential nomination.
But on Tuesday, talking to reporters by conference call while he campaigned in Alaska, Paul and his top aide emphasized that they were looking more to the west for delegates and that their campaign was settling in for “the long haul.”
“We continue to think that it’s very early in this debate and that we’re positioned to compete in all 50 states,” Paul said.
In recent weeks, with his poll numbers suffering, Paul has increasingly looked to his father, former presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, in an effort to win back the libertarian base that presented a formidable voting bloc in 2012.
Rand Paul and his aides are publicly embracing the elder Paul’s campaign strategy: focusing on states that hold presidential preference caucuses, with an emphasis on western states.
Tuesday’s call, which Rand Paul said he was doing “while looking out my window at beautiful Alaska,” came as the senator embarked on a swing through Washington state, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah.
Doug Stafford, Paul’s top aide, said the campaign continued to focus on the first four voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – but was expanding that focus to western states, “particularly caucus states in early March.”
“A lot of these are places where Senator Paul’s father … competed and ran very strongly,” Stafford said.
Fresh off what Stafford called “a big victory,” referring to the Republican Party of Kentucky’s decision to hold a presidential caucus in March, Paul told reporters he thought poll numbers that show him struggling are “soft.”
In particular, Paul said he thought polls were taking into account the preferences of people who won’t vote next year, but he conceded that the surprising strength of Donald Trump’s campaign had taken away from his base of support.
“I think the polls are a very temporary temperature of where people are, and I think they’ve shown that some people are falling for someone who I believe is a fake conservative, and I'll continue to say so,” Paul said.
WHAS-TV’s Joe Arnold, the only Kentucky reporter allowed to ask a question during the call, asked whether Paul’s strategy of attacking Trump was bearing fruit, mentioning that Paul’s poll numbers have continued to fall.
Paul disputed that suggestion, saying his poll numbers “shifted south before I ever attacked him,” adding that other Republican candidates have seen their numbers drop as Trump has surged.
“I think it would be disingenuous of any of us to say we haven’t lost numbers to him,” Paul said. “But I think it will come back.”
Arnold also asked Paul what he would do if he won the GOP nominations for president and Senate next year.
Paul said he and his team continue to think that a state law preventing a candidate from appearing twice on the same ballot is unconstitutional, but he said sorting out the issue as the Republican nominee for president would be a “great problem to encounter once we get beyond the primary.”