FREEPORT — Several hundred people packed a restaurant Tuesday evening to hear from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and libertarian favorite seeking his party’s nomination for president.

Paul stopped in Freeport as part of a multi-day swing through New England as he tries to energize a campaign that has struggled to gain traction within a large Republican candidate field so far dominated by business mogul Donald Trump. He hit familiar themes from his campaign, criticizing the estimated $18 trillion national debt, the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone data, both parties spending habits and tax rates.

“If we want jobs in America, let’s make it a good place to do business,” Paul said. “I would make America a place where they will beat the doors down . . . because I will eliminate all 70,000 pages of the tax code, I’d eliminate the IRS and I will let you fill your tax return out on one page.”

Paul took several shots at the perceived front-runners in the 2016 race – Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republicans Donald Trump and Jeb Bush – but received some of the most enthusiastic cheers when he accused President Obama and generations of presidents from both parties of attempting to consolidate power within the executive branch.

“I promise you this … that if I am your nominee and if I become president, I am not going to go there to accumulate power,” Paul told more than 200 people at Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen & Topside Tavern, whose founder and namesake is a prominent Republican member and donor in Maine. “I am going to go there to give it back to you, to the states and to the people,” Paul said.

An ophthalmologist first elected to the Senate in 2010, Paul is running a libertarian campaign focused on issues such as federal spending, limited government and reining in what he sees as abuses of Americans’ constitutional rights. He has accused many of his Republican rivals of abandoning key party principles, such as small government and defending the Constitution. But Paul also strays from the party mainstream by advocating for marijuana legalization, immigration reform and a more limited U.S. role in foreign affairs and wars.

Paul is the latest 2016 presidential hopeful to visit Maine.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited Portland in July to receive an endorsement from fellow Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Republican Jeb Bush held a fundraiser at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport later that month, and Republican Carly Fiorina will be the guest speaker at a Maine Heritage Policy Center luncheon on Thursday. The largest crowd, by far, was drawn by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent running as a Democrat who drew more than 7,500 people to Portland’s Cross Insurance Arena on July 6.

Paul visited Freeport more than 3 1/2 years after his father, former congressman and staunch libertarian Ron Paul, drew hundreds to Bean’s restaurant and then later to the University of Southern Maine as his campaign gained steam in pockets across the country.

Eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney would later win the most votes in statewide party caucuses in Maine, but only after an ugly, high-profile dispute with Ron Paul supporters. Months later, Ron Paul’s supporters won control of the Maine Republican Party’s 2012 state convention and elected 20 Paul delegates to Maine’s 24 delegate seats at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. National party leaders later stripped half of Maine’s Ron Paul delegates and filled them with Romney supporters, prompting outcries from libertarian-minded convention attendees from Maine and other states.

In the crowded field of 2016 Republican candidates, Rand Paul is running well behind the top nine contenders in the field of 17, according to a new national poll released Tuesday by the independent firm Public Policy Polling. Trump led the pack with 29 percent support, followed by Ben Carson at 15 percent and Bush at 9 percent. Paul, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry all had the support of 1 percent of the respondents, who where identified as Republican primary voters.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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