It may seem like the last presidential race just ended, but two Republicans stoked speculation they will be in the running in 2016 when they addressed groups Friday evening in the two earliest of early states: Iowa and New Hampshire.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., addressed the Iowa Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal headlined a fundraiser for the Republican Senate Majority Committee in Manchester, the campaign committee for the 13-member GOP caucus in the New Hampshire state Senate.
Jindal gave a blunt prescription for a more successful Republican Party, telling the crowd at the Manchester Radisson that he won’t just attack the president and feed the crowd “bright, red meat.” Instead, he focused on “where do we go as a Republican Party.”
“We lost an election that we probably should have won,” Jindal said. “It’s time to get over it. … I think we can win elections by sticking to our principals, but I do think we need to make some changes and I think we need to think seriously about where we go from here.”
Jindal warned the crowd of Republicans to look “forward,” not backwards, and, in a clear reference to Mitt Romney’s failed attempt at the White House, said Republicans must “fight for every single vote, not 53 percent to 47 percent, we need to fight for 100 percent, we need to fight for every single vote.
“We need to have the confidence and we need to have the courage to say our principals, our policies, our beliefs help every American join the middle class, and if we want voters to like us we’ve got to like them first,” Jindal said. “Let the the Democratic Party start dividing people by groups, by subgroups, by special interests. We will have none of that. We view everybody as Americans first, and we are going to treat them like that.”
Jindal spent most of his speech on two topics: improving education in this country with more school choice and charter schools, as well as persuading Republicans to quit the austerity talk and focus on “growth and opportunity” and growing the middle class.
On education, a topic Jindal often talks about in both Louisiana and nationally, he told the audience to “let the dollars follow the child, don’t make the child follow the dollars.” He added that a “bright teacher in the classroom is the single most important thing we can do.”
Jindal also spent part of his address speaking about his family and personal story, noting his father grew up in India with no running water or electricity and was the first person in his family to go past the fifth grade in school.
“We spent too much time last year criticizing the other side without saying what we were going to do instead, without saying what we were for,” he said.
“We allowed them characterize us instead of saying we stand for the middle class,” Jindal said. “We want everybody to have that American dream that my dad pursued, that your parents and grandparents pursued.”
“This is more than just winning an election,” he said. “This is about winning a very important debate where we go as a country.”
He told those listening to take that into account before they supported future candidates.
“As we decide the candidate we support, the leaders we rally around … I would hope we would rally around those candidates and those leaders who stand for what is right not just what is popular,” Jindal said.
He did not mention the possibility that he might be included in that group of future candidates.
Paul’s speech focused on two issues he has been closely aligned with recently: the investigation into the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, as well as comprehensive immigration reform.
The Kentucky senator’s Benghazi comments were expected after he took former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to task earlier Friday for her handling of the terrorist attacks. In an op-ed article in the Washington Times, he wrote that Clinton “should never hold high office again,” and he repeated that charge in Cedar Rapids Friday night, earning a huge cheer from the crowd.
“There were a lot of mistakes made at the time,” Paul said. “Maybe at the time, maybe after the time, cover up this and that. But what was always been most important to me is what happened in the six months leading up to this, because there is no excuse in the six months leading up to this when your people on the ground – military people and State Department people – are asking for more help. They are asking for security, they are pleading for security and they got nothing. It was inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty and it should preclude her from holding higher office.”
When discussing immigration, Paul noted that not everyone in the room would agree with him, including Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who spoke before Paul.
“I am in favor of immigration reform,” Paul said.
He added that he could vote for immigration reform legislation if more border security was added.
“Am I worried a little bit about it? Yes. I’m worried I might offend some people,” Paul told the group of Iowans. “I’m also worried [about] whether it works or not, if it doesn’t work, and the people who vote for it will catch blame for it. But I don’t want to just say I’m voting no and I’m not going to be for it. I do want to try and fix it, because I think there is a problem.”
Like Jindal, Paul said Republicans need to grow the party and be the party of all Americans, adding, “we need to attract the Latino vote. This is a very practical thing and I’m not ashamed to admit it. ”
“We need to attract the African-American vote,” Paul said, noting his appearance at historically black Howard University last month. “We need to change the way we are talking about it and who we are if we want to attract the Latino vote. … We need to treat immigrants with dignity and respect.
“We will get people to consider us as a party,” he said, “but they won’t if we don’t show up.”
Paul reprised many of the themes of a speech he gave in March when he first endorsed comprehensive immigration reform, saying, “If you want to work in our country I want to find a place for you to work.”
“The people are here and there is a certain sense of de facto amnesty in that they are not going home, and their kids will be voting, and if their kids think we are hostile to them they are never going to vote for us,” Paul said. “We are an increasingly diverse nation and I think we do need to reach out to people who don’t look like us, who don’t wear the same clothes, aren ‘t exactly who we are. We need to reach out.
In a sense, it was a homecoming for Paul. The Iowa GOP leadership is made up of loyalists from his father Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign. After the botched reporting of the 2012 caucus results that initially put Mitt Romney on top, only to be corrected two weeks later with Rick Santorum as the true victor, the old players were out after the cycle, replaced by the top members of Paul’s Iowa team, including the present Iowa GOP chairman A.J. Spiker, who served as vice chairman of Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign.
Both Paul and Jindal, along with Hillary Clinton, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and others are already the subject of speculation as potential presidential contenders in 2016, but as recently as January, Jindal said it was way too soon for speculating.
“Any Republican that’s thinking about running for president in 2016 needs to get his head examined,” Jindal told reporters after delivering a speech at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in January.
In that same speech, he had some tough language for his party.
“We must stop being the stupid party,” he said. “It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults. It’s time for us to articulate our plans and visions for America in real terms. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. We’ve had enough of that.”
Jindal mentioned that speech Friday night in New Hampshire, noting his 9-year-old son made him put a dollar in the “bad word jar” after that phrase was heavily covered. He said what he “meant by that that was we’ve got to present thoughtful policy solutions to the American people … not just 30 second solutions.”
Paul will also head to New Hampshire later this month to headline a fundraiser for the state GOP on May 20.
While he is in Iowa this weekend, he is also planning on meeting with the Iowa Federation of Republican Women and attend a fundraiser for Iowa’s Johnson County GOP.
It may be worth noting that, according to Kentucky law, unlike other states, a candidate cannot run for both the U.S. Senate and president of the United States simultaneously, so Paul will have to choose one in the coming years.
ABC News’ Michael Falcone contributed to this report.