First on CNN: Rand Paul to campaign in Vermont, Maine in New England push

(CNN)Fresh off a campaign trip out West, Rand Paul heads to New England next week, where he'll double down on his efforts in New Hampshire and court the Granite State's neighbors to the east and west.

On Monday the Republican presidential candidate will take his libertarian-leaning message to Burlington, Vermont -- the home turf of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders -- following through on his pledge to court voters in places where Republicans don't often visit.
He'll then swing through New Hampshire before he moves on to Maine, then back to New Hampshire by Wednesday.
While Maine and Vermont aren't expected to hold their presidential nominating contests until most likely March, Republican voters in New England are generally more independent minded and can lean libertarian — a pool of voters where Paul feels his message can resonate.
    Michael Biundo, Paul's New Hampshire strategist, said the campaign has seen an "influx of volunteers" coming in from Vermont and Maine. "We're going to cultivate that and put in an effort in both those states," he said, adding that voters there are "very liberty-minded."
    "The whole New England feel has the 'leave me alone coalition' that Rand talks about," he said. Paul ventured into Vermont for private organizational meetings earlier this year and held a fundraiser in Massachusetts, Biundo added.
    The trip will come after Paul returns from a swing through Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah this week.
    "We plan to compete everywhere," said chief strategist Doug Stafford. "The campaign's plans are expanding as planned and have always included other New England states in addition to New Hampshire."
    The New England trip comes as Paul, like most other candidates in the GOP field, have struggled to break through in a Republican primary that's been dominated by real estate titan Donald Trump's meteoric surge.
    Paul, whose father won 23% of the Republican vote in the New Hampshire primary last cycle, was expected to hit the ground running in the Granite State, but his poll numbers have slipped — the most recent polls have him hovering around 6% -- as surprise candidates like Trump and John Kasich have risen.
    But that doesn't mean the Kentucky senator is giving up in the state. His upcoming visit will be his fourth trip there in two months, and his team says he'll maintain an aggressive campaign there. And the pro-Paul super PAC, America's Liberty, recently filed a $450,000 expenditure on TV advertising, the largest single expenditure of any super PAC this cycle.
    Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Political Library at Saint Anselm College, said Biundo is known for being "very good" at being "below the radar" and getting supporters to the polls, but that the competition is tough as long as Trump stays at the top.
    "I think that Donald Trump has clearly had an impact on (Paul's) support here in New Hampshire and in other places," Levesque said. "If you start with the fact that his father got one out of every four votes in New Hampshire last time, he certainly needs to find where those voters are and why they're not with him."
    In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Paul admitted that Trump has factored into his standing in the polls, but also argued his poll numbers had started to drop before Trump became the force that he is. He predicted his numbers will bounce back.
    "I think as people get to know what Donald Trump has really been for over the years, I think people are going to realize he is a fake conservative," Paul said, his most recent jab in the back and forth between the two candidates.
    While Maine Gov. Paul LePage is already throwing his support behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Paul could find a welcoming environment in part thanks to the strong support amassed during his father Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign.
    The former Texas congressman took a close second behind Mitt Romney, 38%-36%, and Paul's diehard delegates waged a vocal standoff at the Republican National Convention, arguing that the candidate wasn't being fairly represented.
    Until recently, Ron Paul has kept a low profile when it comes to his son's campaign, but he has started to lend his name to fundraising emails to help Rand Paul's coffers. While Ron Paul won't be appearing with his son in Maine next week, Rand Paul's campaign says it's possible his father could appear with him on the trail in the future.
    Next week will mark Rand Paul's first visit to Maine as a presidential candidate, but he spoke at the state's GOP convention last year and headlined a lunch event with Maine Sen. Susan Collins.