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Rand Paul Is Real in New Hampshire

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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The conventional wisdom among Republican elites is that Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is a fringe candidate with limited popular appeal. That may prove correct in the long run, but it's unsupported by recent polls -- especially last week's Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm New Hampshire survey.

In fact, the poll, which surveyed 989 general election voters, suggests that Paul is succeeding in generating support beyond the Republican base. His untraditional Republican views -- including skepticism of government surveillance and military interventions, and his call to reform U.S. prison and drug laws -- appear to be resonating.

Paul's favorable/unfavorable rating in New Hampshire's general electorate is 40/40. The only other major Republican candidate without a net negative rating in this likely 2016 battleground state is Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who is less well-known and has a favorable/unfavorable rating of 26/24.

In the poll's test run of the New Hampshire Republican primary, Paul finished second to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. But in a general election match against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Paul performs better than Bush or Walker; they both lose the state to the former Secretary of State by double digits. Paul trails her by only 48-to-41 percent.

Some of Paul's unconventional positions, including a quasi-isolationist streak, may not wear well. But Paul is making a concerted effort to win over young voters, some of whom warmed to his father, Ron Paul, in 2012 when the elder Paul ran for president.

Young voters have been a major problem for Republicans in recent presidential elections. In 2012, President Barack Obama won 60 percent of voters ages 18 to 29, and 55 percent of voters ages 30 to 39. In the New Hampshire survey, conducted by Purple Strategies, Paul is more popular with younger voters and independents than any other Republican.

A first-term senator, Paul is relatively inexperienced and has occasionally exhibited a thin skin; that will have to thicken if he expects to survive a presidential campaign. Still, Paul has some strengths that, at this early stage, others lack.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net