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While Rand Paul Mines Iowa, Marco Rubio Looks to New Hampshire for 2016

May 13, 2013 - 6:00pm

With a prominent fellow Republican wrapping up a whirlwind tour of Iowa last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., will launch a new ad in New Hampshire, the state that traditionally holds the first presidential primary.

Through Reclaim America, a PAC with ties to Floridas junior senator, Rubio unveiled Monday a television ad being run in New Hampshire. The ad praises U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who has been drawing fire in recent weeks for her support of the Second Amendment -- including ads being funded by a group with ties to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Ayotte, who has turned a few heads as a possible presidential candidate, generally is considered a better fit as contender for the vice presidency. She is not up for re-election until 2016.

Despite Ayotte being safe until 2016, Rubio and Reclaim America are doubling down on the senator from New Hampshire, urging supporters to sign a petition backing her.

Liberals just cant get over the fact that their most recent attempt to restrict our Second Amendment rights was defeated soundly by the American people," Reclaim America noted on its petition supporting Ayotte. Since their big government message failed on its own merits, they will now try to discredit supporters of gun rights by spending millions on attack ads that distort the truth.

Their next target is Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Reclaim America continued. Outside groups are now pouring special interest money into New Hampshire to attack Senator Ayotte for supporting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Senator Ayotte stood tall in her defense of American gun owners and our Second Amendment rights, now its time for us to stand tall in defense of her.

Rubio himself was enthusiastic in his praise for Ayotte on Monday. Proud to support Kelly Ayotte, a great GOP senator from New Hampshire, Rubio posted on Twitter.

With a six-figure ad buy expected for the new commercial, Rubio is clearly looking at raising his profile in New Hampshire. With U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., increasingly looking like a candidate for the Republican nomination in 2016, it makes sense for Rubio to turn to New Hampshire.

Paul is certainly focused on Iowa, which traditionally holds the first presidential caucus. On Friday night, Paul spoke at a Republican eventin Cedar Rapids.

Evangelical Christians often prove decisive in the Iowa Republican caucus -- and thats certainly been the case in recent years. With a combination of evangelicals and social conservatives supporting him, Mike Huckabee upset Mitt Romney in Iowa in 2008. In an even bigger upset, Rick Santorum edged Romney by a narrow margin to win the Iowa caucus in 2012.

Paul is already looking to win evangelical voters over -- and frankly he needs to if he wants to do well in Iowa.

Pauls family history could pose a problem as he looks to build in Iowa. Evangelicals and social conservatives have generally been cool to the three losing presidential campaigns of Pauls father, former Congressman Ron Paul. The former Texas congressman is generally seen more as a libertarian than a conservative. Indeed, when Ronald Reagan was president, Ron Paul abandoned the Republicans to run as the Libertarian presidential candidate back in 1988. Ron Paul has further alienated religious conservatives by his heavy criticism of Israel and Americas policies in the war on terror.

While Paul could also do well in New Hampshire -- where his father placed second behind Romney in 2012 -- that state is often hard to place since independents can vote in the open primary. Pat Buchanan beat Bob Dole there in 1996 by running to his right, only to have John McCain win it in 2000 by running to the left of George W. Bush.

Romney won it in 2012 with 39 percent followed by Ron Paul with 23 percent, Jon Huntsman with 17 percent, Newt Gingrich and Santorum with 9 percent each and Rick Perry taking less than 1 percent. Looking at that breakdown, Rubios camp has to assume that most Romney and Huntsman supporters would lean toward their candidate over Paul -- while banking on Ron Pauls voters sticking with his son. But with other Republican hopefuls probably in the field, Rubio has to expand their base as much as possible and try to lure conservatives to his standard. Defending Ayotte for resisting gun control is certainly one way to do it.

Its an early move but an important one. With Paul and Rubio emerging as two of the leading Republican presidential hopefuls in 2016, they could well split Iowa and New Hampshire. In the meantime, the two Republican senators are starting their pathways to the Republican nomination by trying to focus on different parts of the political map.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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