HOLLIS, N.H. — With the next Republican presidential primary debate around the corner, Rand Paul's supporters are nervous he will hurt his chances by boycotting that event, as he did the last one, if he again doesn't qualify for the main stage.
"Skipping the undercard debate, he got a lot of free press doing that, but I think it only works once," State Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, told the Washington Examiner shortly before Paul took the stage at a town hall in Ammon's district.
Ammon and his colleague, Rep. Eric Eastman, R-Nashua, both endorsed Paul early and expressed confident in his ground operation in New Hampshire. But the two state legislators suggested that skipping the next GOP debate, the final one before voting kicks off with the Iowa caucuses, could backfire for the already low-polling candidate.
Paul wouldn't be rewarded with "the same attention" if he pulls the move a second time around, Ammon said.
Indeed, it would be difficult for the senator to draw a similar amount of publicity for the same stunt. After Paul announced his decision to skip the undercard debate, he was invited to appear on "The Dr. Oz Show," "The Daily Show" and other cable news and talk radio programs.
Paul refused to say whether he would decline an invitation to the next debate on Jan. 28 if it turns out he's ineligible to participate in the prime-time event.
"We're going to continue to lobby the Republican National Committee to make sure the inclusion is fair," he told the Examiner.
Paul wouldn't budge after being pressed further for a "yes" or "no" answer.
"We expect to be in the debate," he said. "That's the answer."
The libertarian-leaning GOP hopeful, who's polling at less than 3 percent nationally and around 4 percent in the Granite State, later told reporters he was happy with the outcome of his decision to skip last Thursday's debate.
"I think I won," he said, half jokingly. "We think we actually have a ground game and an organization that rivals any campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, so it was a good decision not to let the media dictate a classification or pre-decide the election."
Paul holds the No. 9 slot in the Washington Examiner's post-debate presidential power rankings. He is slated to spend the next four days campaigning in Iowa.