Discuss as:

Rand Paul does not rule out presidential bid

CONCORD, N.H. -- The heir to liberty may be ready to bear the torch.

On a solo outing as his father’s chief surrogate here Saturday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., left the door wide open to a presidential run in 2016 were his father, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, not to win the Republican nomination.

“First things first is that I’m here trying to help my dad,” Paul said, when asked about a possible bid. “I can’t answer any questions beyond that -- other than to say that I am interested in national debate.”

The careful remarks came during a forum held at a local restaurant Saturday morning, sponsored by the Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank. They seemed to mark a new step in the national political career of a second generation of the Paul family -- a widely expected development. 

The elder Paul, at 76 years old, is in the midst of his third run for the GOP nomination. Rand Paul, who turned 49 on Saturday, was elected to a Senate seat in Kentucky in 2010 -- and seems poised to inherit the movement his father generated inside the libertarian corner of the Republican Party.

“I am interested in long-range goals of changing the country," Rand Paul said, "having a more limited federal government, having more local control of our government. You do that by appearing in the media, speaking to groups around the country, sometimes running for national office -- or maybe, in the Senate.”

Paul’s visit here to The Draft restaurant, a regular stump spot in New Hampshire, was the first of two appearances he made on behalf of his father Saturday, three days before the New Hampshire primary. His appearances included vigorous arguments on Ron Paul’s behalf, especially in the area of foreign policy -- where other GOP candidates have sought to portray the Texas congressman as weak, or naïve.

Addressing a crowd of about 200 people at Windham High School, south of Concord, Paul fielded several questions about his father’s position on Iran.

“Others have said, ‘Well, Ron Paul doesn’t care about Iran getting a nuclear weapon.’  I think that’s an inaccurate representation of my father’s position,” Paul said.

“The question really then becomes,” he added, “if they do get a nuclear weapon, is there only one alternative? Is the only alternative war?"

Despite Paul’s effort to direct attention toward his father, audiences seemed unmistakably interested in him. Among the handful of people who showed up to the low-key forum here in Concord, few still were Ron Paul supporters -- though they were drawn in by the chance to see his son.

Spec Bowers -- a state representative from Sunapee who is supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- approached Paul after the event to discuss local politics.

Asked why he came to the forum, Bowers told NBC News, "I came here to shake the hand of a future president."