Unseasonably warm and dry weather forecast in Iowa for the state’s presidential caucuses could be one of Ron Paul’s worst enemies.
The best scenario for his Republican presidential bid would be a blizzard in Iowa on Jan. 3, when voting at 1,774 precinct caucuses officially starts the party’s nominating process, political experts say. That’s because supporters of the Texas congressman are so committed they’ll turn out whatever the conditions, while other candidates appear to have more fair-weather backers.
“Ron Paul is the man to beat in Iowa,” said Craig Robinson, editor of the Iowa Republican website and a former state party political director. “The combination of his passionate supporters, grassroots organization and impressive media campaign have put Paul in a position in Iowa that his team no longer just hopes to win -- they now expect to win.”
Clear skies, like those predicted next week, could benefit former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, if more mainstream Republicans turn out in an election year when they are eager to unseat President Barack Obama. Romney held a slight advantage over Paul in a poll of likely caucus-goers released yesterday.
About 120,000 Republicans participated in the 2008 Republican caucuses, when former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee beat Romney. Aides to Romney say higher voter-turnout next week would benefit their candidate.
The extended forecast for Des Moines, Iowa’s largest city, calls for a high of 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2.2 degrees Celsius) and zero chance of precipitation. The normal high temperature for Jan. 3 is 31 degrees Fahrenheit (-0.5 degrees Celsius).
Iowa Republicans, from Governor Terry Branstad on down, have called Paul’s organization in the state the most robust of any of the Republicans presidential contenders. Even if few predict he will ultimately be his party’s 2012 nominee, his campaign apparatus has fueled expectations in Iowa.
Robinson pointed to Paul’s campaign having an office in Jackson County, a thinly populated area in eastern Iowa.
“It’s a county that some candidates will not even visit during the campaign, and yet Paul’s campaign is mining the county for votes,” he said.
Paul, 76, returned to Iowa yesterday for the first time since a quiet campaign period in observance of Christmas. He remained quiet -- at least in one way -- by refusing to answer questions from reporters after his campaign events.
The libertarian-leaning congressman was in second place in Iowa with the support of 22 percent of likely caucus-goers -- 3 points behind Romney -- according to the CNN/Time/ORC International poll released yesterday.
Romney hasn’t targeted Paul for criticism, in part because a strong showing by the congressman in Iowa would be less troubling to Romney’s long-range prospects than one by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who ran fourth in the CNN poll with 14 percent after leading it less than a month ago.
In an interview yesterday with CNN, Romney said he would support Paul if he were the Republican nominee because he’d be a better president than Obama.
“I don’t agree with a lot of the things that Ron Paul says,” Romney said. “I would vehemently oppose many of his initiatives.”
That’s the opposite of what Gingrich said in an interview with the network a day earlier, when he said he likely wouldn’t vote for Paul if he were the nominee. Gingrich called Paul “totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American.”
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who at 16 percent moved into third place in the CNN poll in Iowa, has also attacked Paul’s foreign policy views in recent days.
And former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who has focused his Republican presidential candidacy on New Hampshire, said of Paul at an event in that state last night: “He’s not electable at the end of the day, let’s be real about it”
Paul has achieved cult-like status in his third run for the presidency, in part because of his unwavering views on a few key issues. He supports auditing and then scrapping the Federal Reserve, withdrawing U.S. troops from overseas war zones and cutting $1 trillion in federal spending in one year, including closing five government agencies.
“Ron Paul traversed Iowa four years ago, warning of economic calamity if we did not get the government’s debt and spending under control,” said Iowa strategist Tim Albrecht, who worked on Romney’s 2008 campaign and now works for Branstad. “Four years later, he is appearing in the same hotel ballrooms here having had his point proven, and it’s resonating with those same Iowans.”
Still, Albrecht said he suspects news stories about incendiary statements in newsletters produced under Paul’s name in the mid-1990s will hurt him in Iowa.
“Ron Paul is about to learn a very important lesson this week, and that is if you are the front-runner, you will have to defend everything you’ve ever done,” he said. “The newsletter issue for Ron Paul is going to pull him off message this week, at a time when he needs to close the deal with Iowans.”
Paul drew about 120 people yesterday to a midday event at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, where he said he’d cut spending for military bases outside the United States.
“The money that we spend overseas should be the easiest to cut,” he said. “How long do we have to stay in Korea? I mean we’ve been there since I was in high school.”
He didn’t mention recent uncertainty in the region created by the death of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Paul yesterday picked up the endorsement of Kent Sorenson, a state senator who resigned his post as Iowa campaign chairman for U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
“There is a clear top tier in the race for the Republican nomination for president, both here in Iowa and nationally,” Sorenson said in a statement provided by Paul’s campaign. “Ron Paul is easily the most conservative of this group.”
As he made his closing argument ahead of the caucuses, Paul said voters should steer clear of “status quo politicians” and pick him instead.
“Right now, I sense that people are ready for a change in our foreign policy,” he said. “They are ready for a change in our domestic spending policy. I think that probably is an indication why we are doing a little bit better in the polls.”
Rex Nelson, 38, a shipping company auditor who lives in Newton, Iowa, was one of those who saw Paul speak yesterday. He plans to caucus for Paul and has convinced his parents and sister to do the same.
“The mainstream candidates haven’t been making a difference,” Nelson said. “So, I’m looking for someone outside the mainstream.”