Ron Paul, Visiting Ames and Cedar Falls this Week, Could Use Iowa Caucuses to Build National Support
Ron Paul polls high in Iowa and low in most of the rest of the country. His campaign hopes to turn that around.
It has been a roller coaster of an election season.
Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain all shot to the front of the Republican race, one by one. And, one by one, they crashed back down. Now, Newt Gingrich has become Mitt Romney’s strongest challenger.
But there is another candidate, Ron Paul, who has had consistently strong poll numbers in Iowa, despite being largely disregarded by much of the rest of the country. Paul had the support of 18 percent of likely Iowa caucus goers in a Des Moines Register poll released Dec. 3. That put him in second place, behind Gingrich at 25 percent and in front of Romney’s 16 percent.
Nationally, Paul does much worse, landing just 8 percent of Republican voters in a Dec. 1 to Dec. 5 Gallup poll. That still secures him third place, but by a much wider margin -- although the Register Poll may indicate a more accurate view of actual voters; it questioned likely Caucus-goers. The Gallup Poll questioned registered Republicans.
Paul will be speaking at 7 p.m. on Iowa State University campus today and at 7 p.m. at the University of Northern Iowa on Friday.
The question is, could Paul leverage a strong caucus showing to bolster his numbers elsewhere? And, if so, what would that mean for the other candidates?
“He really does attract a unique piece of the Republican party,” said David Redlawsk, a political science professor at Rutgers who used to teach at the University of Iowa. “Whether he’s taking away supporters (from other candidates) or bringing in new ones is not completely clear right now, but I think it’s the latter. Strong Ron Paul supporters might simply stay home if he wasn’t in the race.”
Redlawsk co-authored the book Why Iowa?: Sequential Elections, Reform and U.S. Presidential Nominations, about the role the Iowa caucuses play in the nomination process. He said it’s possible Paul’s campaign could use the media attention of a strong Iowa finish to get people in other states to pay more attention to him.
In general, Redlawsk said, Paul is a candidate who is by-and-large ignored by the main-stream press, where he is perceived as too unlikely to get elected to warrant much coverage. But without press attention, he said, voters don’t learn about Paul, which makes the prophecy self-fulfilling.
Paul’s campaign has also heavily focused its time and money on early voting places such as Iowa and New Hampshire. After the early contests are over, he could take those efforts to the broader electorate, hopefully riding the publicity of strong finishes.
Former Iowa GOP chairman Mike Mahaffey said Paul’s campaign has strong organization and plenty of money, both of which could help him after Iowa. But he wasn’t so sure the libertarian-leaning candidate could garner enough support to go all the way.
“I think Ron Paul has the ability to stay in this for a long period of time,” he said. “Do I think he’s going to be the nominee? I don’t think so.”
This is Paul’s third run for the presidency. He campaigned as a libertarian in 1988 and as a Republican in 2008. He’s never come close to election, but Mahaffey said the message he spreads while campaigning may be just as important as his presidency bid.
“For him, it’s not about personality, it’s about the message. I think to him it is all about the message,” he said.
That message, of personal liberty and small federal government, rings true with supporters from a wide range of interests, Mahaffey said.
Drew Ivers, Paul’s Iowa campaign chairman, echoed Mahaffey’s perspective.
“He’s sincerely and honestly running for nomination within the Republican party,” he said. “A spinoff benefit of that is laying a lot of groundwork for young people to understand our constitutional heritage.”
But Ivers has hope that this time around Paul could do more than spread his message.
“This is the most sporadic set of polling I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “The entire field of Republican candidates has gyrated so much. In the top tier of candidates, Ron Paul has been the most stable. I think that’s a good testimony of his credibility and his message being accepted.”
What do you think will happen to Paul's candidacy after Iowa, and if he is strong in the early caucuses and primaries but doesn't gain the nomination how will that affect the rest of the field? Let us know in the comment section. And, don't forget, Patch will have live coverage before, during and after the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.