Reuters: Rebel conservative Paul lurks in close Iowa raceSubmitted by Romang on Thu, 12/08/2011 - 14:14
Here comes the spin:
(Reuters) - Could Republican Ron Paul, the libertarian longshot with a loyal army of supporters, steal the first big prize of the 2012 presidential race in Iowa?
While the heavyweight fight between rivals Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney hogs the headlines, Paul has steadily climbed into contention in the state that kicks off the Republican nominating contests on January 3.
Recent polls show Paul in second place in Iowa, behind the surging Gingrich and essentially even with Romney in the shifting Republican race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama.
A surprise win for Paul, still a difficult task, would probably not be enough to turn the political rebel into a viable contender for the nomination but it likely would be enough to halt Gingrich's rapid rise.
Paul, the Texas congressman and doctor, has two big strengths that make him a wild card in a state where the caucus process requires voters to gather with neighbors on a cold winter's night to cast their ballots.
He has an enthusiastic and loyal band of supporters, many young and new to politics, that has grown since his failed 2008 presidential bid. And Iowa political activists rate his campaign organization as the best in the state.
"Ron Paul can absolutely win the Iowa caucuses," said Steve Deace, a conservative radio host in Iowa. "His people are the most passionate, his support is underestimated and his ground game is the best."
Paul has seen his libertarian platform of limited government, reduced spending and deep deficit cuts become standard Republican orthodoxy since he finished a distant fifth in Iowa in 2008.
While rivals rise and fall and social conservatives search for a favorite to rally around, Paul's Iowa support has steadily climbed. It hit 18 percent in last weekend's Des Moines Register Iowa poll, up from 12 percent in October and 7 percent in June.
"If the caucus were held today, Gingrich would underperform because his organization has not caught up with his poll numbers," said prominent Iowa religious conservative Bob Vander Plaats. "Ron Paul would overperform because his organization is better than his poll numbers."
A strong showing in Iowa would elevate Paul's profile in the party but might not be enough to propel him to wins in later voting states like South Carolina and Florida, where his organization is not as developed.
"That's the big question: He can win here, but can he win anywhere else?" said Craig Robinson, a former state party official who now heads the Iowa Republican website. "I don't think he can win the nomination."