Concord, N.H. — It’s six o’clock on a humid evening, and the rank and file of the New Hampshire GOP — along with donors and activists from as far as Vermont and Rhode Island, and even a constitutional-law professor from New Jersey — are strolling into the Grappone Conference Center, between the pristine verdure of nearby Horseshoe Pond and the appropriately named Constitution Avenue, to hear speeches from RNC chairman Reince Priebus and, especially, Kentucky senator Rand Paul.
There are a goodly number of Romney bumper stickers on the cars in the lot, but at least one, a sporty little gray number with Massachusetts (!) plates, bears a “Rand Paul for President 2016” sticker below a chrome car badge reading “rEVOLution,” the standard of Rand’s father’s followers.
Inside, the ballroom is abuzz with the argot of the local party, a mix of political conversations catholic and provincial, along with all the usual “how’s your mother?” stuff.
But the ranks of the state committeemen and precinct volunteers are swelled by the mostly younger, occasionally weirder element that follows the Paul family name wherever it goes. The event is sold out — 500-plus tickets at anywhere from $75 to $1,000 a head. Over by the bar, one silver-haired nob in elbow patches taps another. “Have you ever seen so many strangers in your life?”
“Nope,” replies the other.
“It’s a good sign.”
Besides raising a bunch of money for a state party that sees an opening in 2014, the strangers are kind of the point of this first annual NHGOP Liberty Dinner. The idea was to bring all the colors of the right-leaning rainbow into the same room, to start operationalizing Priebus’s vocal commitment to Republican-tent enlargement.
“I know all these people, because I go back a-ways in this state,” Ryan Williams, a longtime Romney comms man and RNC consultant who helped put together the event, tells me. “But it’s a group of Republican activists you don’t usually see in the same place at the same time.”
In many ways, New Hampshire is the perfect place for this effort, and Rand Paul, who spoke in Iowa just ten days prior in another early indication of his presidential ambitions, is the perfect guy to lead it. The state’s registered voters split almost equally Republican (30 percent) and Democratic (29 percent), with 41 percent “undeclared.” Many of these are libertarians at heart if not on paper — this is, after all, the state that prints “Live Free or Die” on its license plate — and precisely the sort of voters the Republican party will need to bring inside the tent if it is to win in 2014 and 2016.