It’s a two-hour drive between Ames and Cedar Rapids, two key Iowa cities for Republican presidential candidates competing in the state that will host the first balloting next year. Ron Paul flew by private jet.
The hop between campaign appearances yesterday by the Texas congressman and Federal Reserve opponent aboard a Westwind jet is symbolic of the heightened resources and support he enjoys, compared with his quixotic bid four years ago.
Now in his third White House try, Paul is given little chance by political analysts of emerging as President Barack Obama’s 2012 challenger. Yet in Iowa, where the Feb. 6 caucuses start the nomination process, he has a committed and well-funded network that some say may be capable of an upset at the Aug. 13 Iowa Straw Poll, a party fundraising event meant to test the popularity and organizational ability of presidential candidates.
“They are far more organized and are running a formidable campaign,” said Craig Robinson, editor of the Iowa Republican website and a former state party political director. “They are easily a spoiler for someone. I think the question is whether Ron Paul finishes first or second.”
A top-two finish for Paul, 75, could hurt other candidates seeking to show momentum. The stakes are probably the highest for former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, 50, who has placed his greatest emphasis on Iowa since he began pursuing the presidency. He plans to campaign almost exclusively there ahead of the poll.
On July 23, the Republican Party of Iowa decided nine candidates will have their names on the straw-poll ballot, which will also offer a write-in option for the first time.
Candidates who rented space at Iowa State University in Ames for the event were guaranteed a ballot spot. Besides Paul and Pawlenty, they include Representative Michele Bachmann, 55, of Minnesota, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former pizza chain executive Herman Cain and Representative Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan. In addition to those who rented space, the ballot will also include former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr.
Using so-called “money bombs” and other online fundraising techniques, Paul raised almost twice as much in the second quarter of 2011 as he did in the same quarter four years earlier.
‘We’re on TV’
“It sure makes it a lot easier,” Paul said in a brief interview in Cedar Rapids. “We’re on TV. We didn’t do that last time. And the other thing is, it shows momentum and the numbers of people that are involved, so it’s a lot easier to get our volunteers and that’s why we expect to do very well.”
They will have to overcome an advantage by Romney and Bachmann, who were in a 23-22 statistical tie for the lead, with Paul well behind at 7 percent, in an Iowa Poll last month of likely Republican caucus participants sponsored by the Des Moines Register.
A band of volunteers helped Paul finish fifth in the straw poll four years ago. Expectations will be higher this year as Republicans gather for the carnival-like event. Paul’s campaign paid $31,000 to rent the most coveted spot for its straw poll headquarters, ground held four years ago by Republican frontrunner Romney, 64.
Paul -- known for his calls for limited government and drive to eliminate the Federal Reserve -- has also spent about $400,000 on television advertising nationwide this year, said Jesse Benton, his campaign chairman. That represents less than a tenth of the $4.5 million Paul raised in the quarter that ended June 30, a total that on the Republican side of the race was only surpassed by Romney, who raised $18.3 million.
For a midday event yesterday inside a Marriott hotel ballroom, Paul attracted about 100 supporters, a good showing by Iowa standards for such gatherings. He and his supporters urged the audience to bring as many friends as possible to the straw poll.
“We have the opportunity to magnify this message and elevate it and send America a message out of Ames,” David Fischer, Paul’s Iowa vice chairman, told the crowd.
In his 28-minute speech, Paul highlighted some of his campaign positions, which include a return to linking the dollar to gold and a non-interventionist foreign policy, the basis for his opposition to the U.S. involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. He’s also critical of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, saying the U.S. should have worked with Pakistan and shown more respect for the international rule of law.
Phil Luetchford, 24, a systems engineer from Cedar Rapids, said the added financial resources have meant that volunteers such as himself have been “well supplied” with campaign flyers, signs and other material. He said he is supporting Paul over Bachmann because he is a proven commodity.
“He’s had a consistent record for 30 years,” Luetchford said of Paul, who leans libertarian. “She doesn’t have the record that Ron Paul has.”
Drew Ivers, Paul’s Iowa campaign chairman, called it “wonderful” to have resources such as a private jet available to help speed the delivery of the candidate’s message.
“There’s a lot of difference between now and four years ago,” said Ivers, who also led the 2008 Iowa effort. “His name identification is up, his message is up and his respect is up.”
In Iowa, the campaign has a headquarters and six paid staff members, Ivers said, noting how an online fundraising effort last week raised $600,000 specifically to help Paul compete in the straw poll.
“We’re in much better shape now,” he said. “We can have the luxury of some radio and TV and print ads.”