How Paul Could Change Race Republican Candidate
Is Poised to Win Role as Spoiler
By SUSAN DAVIS
December 4, 2007; Page A6
Manchester, N.H. -- After shocking the Republican Party establishment with a surge in online support, Rep. Ron Paul is trying to translate his Internet revolution into real votes, particularly in New Hampshire.
• The News: Grass-roots activism and strong online donations have fueled a surge in New Hampshire for Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.
• The Problem: Reliance on political neophytes and lack of a strategy before Jan. 8 primary.
• What It Means: The Texas congressman is unlikely to win in New Hampshire but could be a spoiler for Republicans who fall behind him.
The Texan's latest campaign swing through the early-primary state shows it is going to be a tough climb -- though he could have an impact on the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
"As a realist and as an experienced political person, I know that it's extremely unlikely he is going to get the nomination," says Keith Murphy, who runs an unofficial Paul campaign headquarters at his Elm Street bar. "Having said that, if he can win in any state in the nation, it's New Hampshire."
New Hampshire seems a natural fit for Mr. Paul, whose libertarian strain of Republicanism, fiscal conservatism, opposition to the war, and pro-gun record play best here. He also boasts spirited grass-roots activism and a healthy campaign bank account that, spent wisely, could potentially shake up the Jan. 8 primary.
This past Saturday evening, as Mr. Paul arrived at Murphy's Tap Room, the supporters erupted in a chant: "What do we want? Liberty!" Murphy's provides free wireless Internet access, an indispensable tool for a campaign largely organized on the Web.
Poll Numbers Have Risen
The 72-year-old lawmaker and obstetrician has been able to raise large amounts of money using the Internet. His poll numbers have climbed, passing Fred Thompson, whose loss to Mr. Paul would be a humiliating setback. Still, Mr. Paul has yet to break through the single digits, with an average 8% in recent polling. His official New Hampshire headquarters, 18 miles away in Concord, has only 10 paid staffers trying to coordinate operations.
Many supporters here in Manchester and in Salem, where Mr. Paul appeared at a town hall meeting, insist their candidate can win. But the strategy is foggy: Even Mr. Paul can't explain it, and he's uncertain of the outcome. "I have no idea," he said in an interview, when asked to gauge his chances for the nomination.
Many of his supporters, while vocal and enthusiastic, are from other states and can't vote in the Jan. 8 primary. Staten Island, New York's Lou Barrett, 56 years old and dressed as Santa Claus, said he came to New Hampshire to get other people here to vote for Mr. Paul. Mr. Barrett isn't a registered Republican in New York, either, and thus can't vote for Mr. Paul in his home state's Feb. 5 closed primary. Still, he says, "We're winning the hearts and minds." Mr. Barrett said he hopes the $123 Santa costume will leave voters with a positive feeling about Mr. Paul.
Others have taken equally unorthodox approaches to promoting their candidate. Tom Moor of Massachusetts and his band have written a song, "The Ron Paul Anthem," with lyrics such as: "Is there a doctor in the house? A man who will not sell his country out?" Another supporter promotes "Ron Paul Chocolate Liberty Dollars."
Such goofiness borne of reliance on political neophytes and Mr. Paul's own appeal to more fringe elements, like conspiracy theorists, point to the probability he won't win or place in the contest. But he could be a spoiler, embarrassing other candidates who place behind him in the first-in-the-nation primary.
Mr. Paul brushed off such suggestions. "I don't know if I can accept that term if I'm a candidate running -- I either win, or I do well, or I lose, but who am I spoiling? If someone beats me, do they spoil me?" he asked.
Jeff Nelson, president of Thomas More College in Merrimack, N.H., said Mr. Paul's strength is likely to come from first-time voters, making it more difficult to gauge his effect on the primary. "I think he's attracting voters that otherwise wouldn't participate," he said. "I've been around the [Mitt] Romney campaign, the [Rudy] Giuliani and the [Sen. John] McCain people, and there's no one there that's attracted to Ron Paul."
Small Donors Fuel Fund-Raising
Mr. Paul is also raising the kind of money that will allow him to stay in the race -- if only as a Republican gadfly -- until the Republican nominating convention in September. "That's the goal as long as the campaign goes well, that would be the goal," he says.
His independently run, online fund-raising operation, fueled by individual small donors, has put nearly $10.5 million in his coffers since Sept. 1. Trevor Lyman, a Miami-area music promoter, helped organize a Nov. 5 online fund-raiser that collected nearly $4.2 million in a single day.
Mr. Lyman, 37 years old, says he has never voted before but moved to New Hampshire in November to work full-time as a volunteer. He is helping coordinate a second fund-raiser on Dec. 16, the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, which he predicted will "meet or beat" the first event. If successful, the campaign will easily exceed the $12 million target for the fourth quarter.
Mr. Paul said the campaign is raising money faster than it knows how to spend it. While other campaigns are rolling out television and radio ads, sending mailers and hiring pollsters, Mr. Lyman is now trying to coordinate an outside effort to rent a Ron Paul blimp to fly around the country for a month.
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