Rand Paul has been visiting the New Hampshire campaign trail for a while now. In a visit last September, he was full of vim and vigor, telling a Manchester bar packed with millennials, “When we proclaim our message with the passion of Patrick Henry, and we proclaim it like a man coming over the hill singing, then I think we’ll be the dominant movement again.”
At stops in the Lakes region and Manchester on Wednesday, the crowds were smaller, and Paul’s speeches less sweeping and more specific. He described his plan for a flat tax rate, and made digs at Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
The Kentucky Senator was the second Republican to announce his candidacy. He rode a wave of early popularity, polling among the top three through June. However, as the months have passed and other candidates joined the race, Paul’s star has dimmed somewhat.
At Jo’s Green Garden Cafe in Wolfeboro, Jackie Freese said she likes Rand Paul’s ideas, but “I don’t think he has a great chance.“ She explained, “I think he’s too conservative for most voters.”
At the Airport Diner in Manchester, Donella Hodgkins had a theory. “I think he was doing well and then all of a sudden the last debate, I think people got turned off with his interaction with Chris Christie,” she said, “That was a problem for him I think.”
Whatever the reason, it’s true that Paul’s poll numbers have been sinking compared to some of his competition. Lately, he comes in at the bottom half of a sprawling field.
In the meantime, Paul continues to roll out new endorsements. In New Hampshire, his list is longer than most other candidates’. The campaign says Rand Paul’s strength is obvious – from the ground, if not from the numbers.
Victoria Sullivan is a State Representative from Manchester, a city where Rand Paul has a lot of support. She endorsed Paul early on.
“I know that right now his poll numbers have dropped in comparison to some people who have just come out of the gate,” she said, “but we came out of the gate way before, so I’m confident in the next few weeks you’ll see the people who just came out of the gate come down in their numbers too.”
Many volunteers here will tell you, they cut their teeth helping with Rand’s father Ron Paul’s campaigns. And when Paul doesn’t have his cowboy boots on the ground here, he puts endorsements like Sullivans’ to work.
She said she makes phone call goes door to door, and attends events on his behalf.
“Just this weekend at the Hillsboro County GOP event,” she said, “I went and spoke on his behalf there.”
It’s not just lawmakers jumping into the fray.
Nashua resident Kathy Peterson said she started volunteering six hours after Paul announced his candidacy on April 7th.
"I like every single idea that he has," she said.
She used to work in manufacturing, but now is an accounting student.
Reducing national debt, a less aggressive military, stopping the NSA, these are all things Peterson said she talks to friends and neighbors about.
In Manchester, Paul told Sullivan, Peterson, and a crowd of supporters “we need to be the party of everyone who pays taxes, or everyone who wants to have a job.”
Right now, he’s betting on his network of grassroots support here to woo those votes.