In a surprising new poll out Tuesday, Congressman Ron Paul — mocked by the media and ignored by his own party — has jumped to the front of the pack for the Republican nomination.
Paul, who has been ignored for his libertarian views, is now in a four-way virtual tie with Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich for the GOP nomination for the presidency. This is a huge leap forward for Paul, who has had a difficult time attracting more than 10 per cent of the vote in any serious poll.
With the first primaries and caucuses only seven weeks away, we have officially entered the beginning of the end game for all the various candidacies. While the current debates have featured seven, eight, or more candidates, we will soon begin narrowing down that field to the handful of people who might actually win the nomination. Few expected Ron Paul to be among those who might win.
According to the Bloomberg poll, Herman Cain sits at 20 per cent, with Ron Paul in second at 19 per cent. Mitt Romney is down to a mere 18 per cent, and the other surging candidate, Newt Gingrich, is up to 17 per cent. For all intents and purposes, that is a four-way tie for first place. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in a presidential race, and I doubt any of us ever will again.
Of course, it is not just the numbers that make the story. It is the context of those numbers. Cain may hold a slim technical lead, but his numbers are fading fast. He rose to prominence as the “anti-Romney” candidate after Rick Perry flamed out. But a lingering series of sexual harassment claims, including two women who have come forth publicly to name Cain as their aggressor, seems to have taken the wind out of Cain’s sails.
This leaves conservatives looking for a candidate to take on Mitt Romney, who most conservatives view as a moderate and unwilling to advocate the conservative positions on issues if elected.
It appears that anti-Romney vote that once fuelled Cain’s rise is now splitting between Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Gingrich, for his part, is trying to claim the anti-Romney by positioning himself as a Washington outsider. This is a ridiculous claim for him to make, considering he was Speaker of the House and spent decades working in Washington.
On top of that, Gingrich is simply an insufferable man. To be more blunt, he’s a jerk. He left one wife to be with his mistress, who he later married. He then left her for another mistress, who he is now married to. Gingrich likes to throw his bling around, and while he sometimes has a superior intellect (particularly when compared to the likes of drooling imbeciles like Bachmann) he is also prone to saying incredibly stupid things.
More than that, Gingrich, once he is covered more in the media, will become completely unacceptable to the Republican base. He is, for all intents and purposes, not a conservative. He believes in the science of global warming. He believes government can provide solutions — just different solutions than what the Democrats might offer. (Look: I’m a liberal, and there are things that Gingrich advocates that I could vote for. I’m fairly certain he is not what the GOP is looking for in a candidate right now.)
As a professor, Gingrich thinks he can solve the world’s problems by governing as some sort of philosopher-king. That might work well in some arenas, but in the GOP primary that will leave him dead in the water. He is, essentially, Mitt Romney – if Mitt Romney were a wealthy, philandering Catholic who whined a lot.
In other words, Cain is on his way down. Gingrich will soon follow him down. Romney is unacceptable to 75 per cent of the Republican party. That leaves one person as a front-runner: Ron Paul.
Ron Paul’s path forward at this point is fairly straightforward. He has to win Iowa. He could, I suppose, get by with a second place finish in Iowa and still carry on to fight another day. But, given the way the media covers his campaign, the only real chance he has is to win Iowa outright. If Romney wins Iowa, Paul can get away with a close second, because he will still be the “anti-Romney” candidate. If Cain or Gingrich wins Iowa, things get a lot trickier for Paul. Do-able, but trickier.
Paul then has to finish second in New Hampshire, which would essentially be a win for him. Romney all but has that state locked up. Ron Paul’s goal here is to essentially shut down Gingrich and Cain, hopefully knocking one of them out of the race entirely. Perry might fight on until South Carolina, but since he’s polling barely ahead of me in most of the current polls, I doubt he will influence the race much.
Third, and this is the huge one, Paul has to win South Carolina. It is his most natural constituency. There are a lot of veterans in the state, and no one cares more about veterans than Ron Paul does. There are also a lot of anti-government, “leave me alone” types in South Carolina, and those voters would walk naked through a blizzard to vote for Ron Paul. This is, after all, the state that told Washington to screw off and seceded.
I would wager that there are some voters there who have waited their entire lives to vote for a candidate whose views reflect their own.
If Ron Paul can do these things: finish ahead of Gingrich and Cain in Iowa, New Hampshire, and win South Carolina, he will establish a two-man race for the presidency between himself and Mitt Romney. That is where the fun begins, as Romney’s money advantage (he has a huge donor base and is a millionaire many times over) will run headfirst into Ron Paul’s advantage: the fact that Paul is actually a conservative.
At that point, the race is a coin flip and will depend on factors I cannot possibly quantify at this early date. What I can say is that, while we at Benzinga have been covering Ron Paul since the beginning, the rest of the media has not. Ron Paul now stands at the beginning of a path to victory.
Whether he gets there or not depends solely on just how serious Republicans are about limited government, and how willing they are to throw their support behind a candidate who says what he means and means what he says.
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