As Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney sling mud across the Sunshine State, another candidate has been markedly absent from the Florida barnstorming this week.
Ron Paul — the libertarian demigod who briefly captured the media’s attention earlier this month — has once again faded into political oblivion after his disappointing fourth-place finish in South Carolina’s primary last week.
His campaign’s decision to bypass Florida has virtually guaranteed that Paul will stay out of the news cycle, at least until the state’s primary election on Jan. 31. After tonight’s debate in Jacksonville, the candidate plans to spend the weekend campaigning in Maine — not exactly a hotbed of political activity these days.
As crazy as it seems, Paul’s schedule is actually very strategic. Senior advisors for the campaign say that they remain focused on picking up as many delegates as possible — and that means allocating its resources efficiently.
In a recent interview with Business Insider, Paul’s campaign manager John Tate pointed out that there is no benefit to spending precious time and money in Florida, where Paul is polling in the single-digits. The expensive winner-take-all state lost half of its delegates by moving up its primary up to January; even if the state is forced to divide its delegates proportionally, by Congressional district, there is little chance that Paul will win any district outright.
“It’s just so expensive, and we figure, spending $9-$12 million in ads might not be worth it,” Tate said. “We’re spending our money more wisely….Spending half a million dollars to win all of North Dakota’s delegates is a lot more efficient than spending $12 million to maybe win some of Florida’s delegates.”
The Paul campaign is instead looking ahead to Nevada, Minnesota, and Colorado, all of which will vote in caucuses next month. That means limited press exposure for the candidate, but the campaign hopes that a win — or strong second place finish — in any of those states will turn the conversation back to Paul, while also racking up all-important delegates.
“Between February 4 and February 7 more delegates will be chosen than in Florida, South Carolina and New Hampshire combined. Florida lost half its delegates, so we’re not that worried,” Tate said, noting that, so far, only 37 of the 2,000 convention delegates have been selected. “”Part of the strategy is derived from looking at where we did well in 2008, or somewhat well, and realising that if we do this well, we can do even better in those states. I believe we can win some of those states and get to the convention with the delegates we need.”
What Paul’s strategy does not account for, however, is Newt Gingrich’s eleventh-hour surge; if the former House Speaker can maintain his momentum through Super Tuesday, he could further divide the delegate pie and deny Paul the strong February finish he needs to be a factor at the convention.
Paul’s senior advisors insist that they are not concerned about Gingrich — but the campaign has notably dropped the ‘two-man race’ narrative it adopted after Paul’s surprising second-place finish in New Hampshire.
“”It had been a two-man race up until now,” Paul’s press secretary Gary Howard told Business Insider. “Now it’s still sort of a two-man race because Newt doesn’t have any organisation in any of the other states.”
“Our numbers have been consistent and rising. Gingrich has gone up and down and up and down,” Tate added later. “I think we’ll see him drop again, probably after Florida.”
Even if Gingrich perseveres, however, a three-way race would not be the worst-case scenario for the Paul campaign, Tate said.
“I think actually the more the merrier,” he told Business Insider. “The more people who win, the longer this goes on…My theory is that having three or four candidates in it until August, and a wide open convention, is the way to go.”
Tate’s comments underscore a unique reality of Paul’s White House bid — that the message is just as important as the man. To that end, the campaign will be victorious if Paul can arrive in Tampa this summer with enough delegates to influence the convention and secure the candidate a spot on the speech lineup. The rest is just icing on the cake.