Rand Paul builds support in the Northeast, wins straw poll

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Friday, March 7, 2014. AP

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., whose libertarian views set him apart from most of the Republican Party, easily won the Maine GOP's straw poll on Sunday after speaking at the Maine Republican Convention a day earlier. Yet as he considers a possible presidential bid, the senator was in the Northeast over the weekend to build stronger relationships with the establishment wing of the Republican Party.

"You win elections by bringing people together, not dividing them, and I believe that really there's a lot of commonality between folks in the Republican Party," Paul told the Portland Press Herald.

Paul on Sunday attended a state fundraiser for moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, while on Friday he was in Boston meeting with former aides to 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Paul's attempts to broaden his support within the party stands in contrast to the divisions that his father Rep. Ron Paul's presidential bid created -- in 2012, Maine Republicans fought over whether to support Ron Paul or Romney.

Spencer Zwick, Romney's former national finance chairman, helped arrange the private luncheon that Paul attended Friday at Solamere Capital, a private-equity firm led by Zwick and Tagg Romney (Mitt Romney's oldest son). Paul "was very well received," Zwick told the Associated Press. "This was meant to be a real discussion with people that I view can be very helpful."

While he's building connections within the party, Paul told the Press Herald it's too early for him to say whether he's running for president. "I think we need to do one election at a time and people get overwhelmed with more than one," he said.

Paul is also taking steps this week to show his support for Israel -- something that's been called into question, given his libertarian views. This week he plans to introduce legislation that would end aide to the newly-unified Palestinian government unless it recognizes Israel's right to exist within the next five weeks.

"The recent announcement of a Fatah-Hamas unity agreement brings both danger and opportunity to the peace process, and the next five weeks may prove critical," Paul said in a statement. "Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with an entity that does not believe it should exist and that has used terrorist tactics to seek its end."

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