Four years ago, Ron Paul arrived at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, with just 15 delegates and was shunned by party elites who gave him no speaking role. He held a “Rally for the Republic” in Minneapolis for thousands of supporters during the convention.
The libertarian Texas Representative probably will be a more forceful presence at this summer’s Tampa, Florida, convention, to the consternation of some Republican leaders.
“I sort of have to chuckle when they describe you and me as being dangerous,” Paul said to cheers from supporters after his second place finish in last night’s New Hampshire primary. “We are dangerous to the status quo in this country.”
Paul received about 23 percent of the vote in New Hampshire last night, tripling the almost 8 percent he got in 2008. In the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, he got more than twice the vote of four years ago, and finished close behind front-runner Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
There are many arcane elements to the Republican delegate allocation rules and there still will be winner-take-all primaries in such states as Florida and New Jersey where Paul probably will be shut out. Nevertheless, if he continues this improved showing, he could garner 200 delegates or more and arrive at the Aug. 27 convention with a stronger negotiating hand.
“There is no doubt that this whole effort that we’re involved in will not go unnoticed,” Paul said last night. “I think the intellectual revolution is going on now to restore liberty. There is no way they are going to stop the momentum that we have started.”
“Given everything we know about him, he’ll be seeking some sort of major policy statement from the party,” said Anthony Corrado, a political scientist at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. “I suspect that’s more important to him than any particularly personal role at the convention or any rules change.”
The Texas doctor’s vote share stands to increase as other rivals withdraw from the race -- something Paul probably won’t do given his ardent support base that has shown an ability to raise millions of dollars in a day. On Dec. 16, Paul’s backers responded to his call for donations by generating $4 million by close of business.
With more Republican contests, including Nevada and North Carolina, this year awarding delegates in proportion to the statewide vote, Paul has more opportunities to capture some even if he is unable to crack 25 percent in a divided field.
Unique Virginia Opportunity
Virginia could present a unique opportunity since Paul and Romney are the only candidates who qualified to be on the ballot and the state allocates some of its 49 delegates based on the proportion of votes each candidate receives.
Polls in Iowa showed that Paul, 76, who won about 432,000 votes nationally as the 1988 Libertarian Party presidential nominee, attracted more support from voters unaffiliated with either party than any other Republican candidate. He hasn’t ruled out a third-party candidacy, a scenario that could siphon votes from the Republican nominee and hurt the party’s effort to unseat President Barack Obama.
Paul’s best chances to accumulate delegates are in states where Republicans are using caucuses and conventions such as Nevada rather than primary elections. With Paul’s resolute followers, he is well-suited to perform well at caucuses, which have lower voter turnouts than primary elections and place a greater emphasis on organization.
Caucus State Advantages
“Any caucus state is something that he’s going to be targeting,” Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College in North Carolina, said in an interview.
“It is an unknown just how many delegates the Paul campaign can get through to the convention in Tampa,” Putnam wrote Jan. 4 on his Frontloading HQ blog that analyzes the presidential election. “If the over/under is 200, take the over,” he said, adding that “the dynamics can and likely will change.”
States holding caucuses in the first week of February include Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and Nevada, which together have 128 delegates. Paul’s Nevada campaign last week announced 15 political events in a nine-day span, including voter registration and phone-banking efforts that are intended to turn out voters for that state’s Feb. 4 caucus.
Paul’s campaign recognizes the disadvantages he faces in winner-take-all states. For instance, he isn’t waging an aggressive campaign in Florida, where all 50 delegates will be awarded to the winner of the Jan. 31 primary. Paul drew support from just 10 percent of Florida Republicans in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Jan. 4-8, putting him in fourth place behind Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Santorum.
No Big Campaign
“We don’t have a big campaign planned” in Florida, “but they’ll know we’re there and we have the caucus states that we’ll be paying more attention to,” Paul told CNN on Jan. 9.
In 2008, Paul didn’t exit the race until mid-June, after every state voted and more than three months after John McCain clinched a majority of delegates.
Paul may become the latest presidential runner-up who parlayed his showing in the caucuses and primaries into flexing some muscle at the national convention.
In 1976, California Governor Jerry Brown did well enough against Jimmy Carter in the Democratic primaries to secure a prime-time speaking spot at the national convention.
A Jobs Plank
Four years later, allies of the late Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy were able to insert a jobs plank into the Democratic party platform, over the objections of Carter’s supporters.
In 1988, Jesse Jackson finished second to Michael Dukakis, accumulating delegates by winning southern state primaries, caucuses and by staying in the race until the end. Dukakis then gave Jackson and his family a prime-time speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.
“If Paul were to accumulate a sizable bloc of delegates, there would be significant efforts from the Romney campaign to try to work out some agreement so that his role in the race was recognized and perhaps some of his policy concerns were recognized,” said Corrado.