CAP-HATIEN, Haiti — Mathieux Saint Fleur has been virtually blind for two decades. In less than 24 hours, he will see again.

As the Haitian patient lies on an operating table, a U.S. eye surgeon-turned-politician reassures him in broken Creole that the surgery is almost over.

“People need to be encouraged it’s not much longer,” said Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist by training.

As many of Paul’s competitors courted voters in Iowa and New Hampshire over the last week, Kentucky’s junior senator joined a team of eye surgeons on a four-day mission to Haiti, giving vision to nearly 200 who would not have been blind if they lived in the United States. But here in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, “curable blindness” from common ailments such as cataracts is normal.

Despite the humanitarian focus, Paul’s precarious place in the 2016 presidential contest was never quite forgotten.

Considered a formidable White House contender for much of the last year, the senator’s standing in the Republican field has suffered since billionaire businessman Donald Trump’s rise.

Paul has worked aggressively to broaden his support beyond the small but passionate group of his father’s loyal supporters. Yet many prominent donors and Republican establishment figures have balked, largely because of the younger Paul’s foreign policy views.

Like his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, Rand Paul favors a dramatically smaller footprint in the world. He has proposed federal budgets that would eliminate virtually all U.S. funding to foreign governments.

He didn’t back off such positions while in Haiti.

“The U.S. has had a big role for many, many years here,” said Paul. “It hasn’t fixed things.”