BOSTON (AP) — Fighting to move beyond his father's shadow, Sen. Rand Paul is crafting new alliances with the Republican Party establishment during a Northeast tour that began Friday in Boston.
The 51-year-old Kentucky Republican, son of libertarian hero and former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, headlined an afternoon luncheon hosted by top lieutenants of former presidential nominee Mitt Romney — a private meeting that comes as Paul weighs a 2016 presidential bid of his own. To succeed in a national campaign, however, those close to Paul acknowledge that he must broaden his appeal beyond the tea party and libertarian-minded activists who rallied behind his father's long-shot presidential runs.
"Ron's retired. Ron's political career was obviously a help to Rand, but he's finished," said Doug Stafford, Rand Paul's former chief of staff who now leads his political action committee. "This is about Rand."
The freshman senator attended the luncheon at the private-equity firm Solamere Capital, a Boston-area company led by Romney, his former national finance chairman Spencer Zwick and Romney's oldest son, Tagg. Later in the afternoon, Paul speaks to Harvard University's Institute of Politics, where one of Romney's most trusted aides serves as a fellow. He finishes his Boston swing by addressing a national conference of ophthalmologists, where he plans to draw from his personal experience as an eye doctor in an effort to broaden his image.
Paul has yet to announce his intentions for the 2016 presidential contest but says he's seriously considering a run.
Former Romney aides and officials at the Republican National Committee said Paul is building on consistent outreach to GOP establishment figures that already distinguishes his record from his father's.
Paul endorsed Romney in 2012 soon after the former Massachusetts governor became the presumptive GOP presidential nominee; Paul's father never endorsed Romney. Over the last year, Paul has stood alongside Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in places like New Hampshire and Michigan as the national party works to mend internal divisions and strengthen its appeal among young people and minorities. Paul has helped fellow Republicans across the political spectrum raise money, as he is expected to do Saturday for Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who is widely considered a moderate.
"There's no question that he has outreach to do, but I think people realize he has a legitimate chance of doing very well in the (presidential) nomination process," said former Romney aide Ryan Williams. "His challenge is to prove that if he were our nominee he would be a viable candidate in a national race. Certainly, his father was never viewed that way."
As he courts the establishment, Paul is starting to build a team on the ground in virtually every state — a network drawn largely from the activists that backed his father. While Ron Paul was widely dismissed by the Republican establishment as a fringe candidate in 2012, he was a significant factor in several nominating contests, earning more than 20 percent of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The Paul camp recognizes that Romney's team could help him build on his father's numbers.
"I don't know how many will be supportive, but the door is open," Stafford said of Romney's aides and donors. "They want to hear from him."
Meanwhile, Paul faces challenges as he works to introduce himself to a new cross-section of the electorate.
At first one of the most high-profile people supporting Cliven Bundy, Paul distanced himself this week from the Nevada rancher and his controversial comments about African-Americans. Bundy has been celebrated by conservatives for fighting off the federal government's push to collect grazing fees — most recently with the help of an armed militia.
Paul released a statement this week saying that Bundy's "remarks on race are offensive, and I wholeheartedly disagree with him."
Paul continues his Northeastern outreach on Saturday in Maine, where he will address party activists at the state GOP convention. He also plans to appear next month at the RNC's spring meeting in Memphis.
"He's already reached out beyond the folks that his dad has," Stafford said. "That's what he's been trying to do — both broaden his appeal and broaden the appeal of the party ... Whoever the nominee is in 2016 is going to have to be someone who can do that."