By Brian Doherty
-- The Washington Post contemplates the mystery of Ron Paul's always-huge crowds at events in the face of an inability to win GOP primaries or caucus straw polls, and concludes: his young, scruffy, love-to-rally fans can't always be relied on to register and vote, particularly if they have to register Republican. Excerpts:
Even though Paul has had a superior ground game in many smaller caucus states and has raised nearly $40 million, he has been unable to grab a victory in any state and has tallied about 1.1 million votes, half Newt Gingrich’s haul and a quarter of Mitt Romney’s.
The problem is this: Although Paul is running to lead a party that looks like him — older, whiter, Southern — his crowds are younger, war-weary, more diverse and less likely to identify with one party or to vote.
The same independent streak that leads the young and the restless to Paul’s libertarian philosophy seems to make it more unlikely that these supporters will pick a side and a party, which is a requirement for many of the primary and caucus contests.
A University of Maryland “Youth for Ron Paul” Facebook page underscores this point, suggesting that party affiliation is best sold as a short-term fling: “If you haven’t yet, PLEASE register Republican (for just a month) to vote for Ron Paul in the MD primary.”...
The article goes on to discuss the importance of Paul to the race beyond votes tallied so far:
“[Paul] is like an art film that everyone in the artistic film community loves, but it bombs at the box office. He has a small, very passionate following that shouts bigger than its size,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist. “They did well in smaller states, but at the end of the day you have to ask yourself if they really have that much power and if the tea party has that much power. ”
Yet in the GOP primary race, Paul and his aides see a kind of victory that can’t be measured in delegates. They see a party that is very much coming around to Paul’s limited-government, get-rid-of-it approach to almost everything....
Paul certainly expanded his support beyond what he received in 2008, finishing a strong third in the Iowa caucuses and second in New Hampshire.
And there is more Paul to come:
In the younger [Sen. Rand] Paul, tea party voters see something different.
Where Rep. Paul can be long-winded and professorial, Sen. Paul is direct and folksy.
“I would be a Rand Paul supporter in a heartbeat, but I’ve never seen myself as a Ron Paul supporter because I never thought Ron was someone who was able to govern,” said Ryan Rhoads, an Iowa tea party leader. “Ron Paul gets distracted on the podium. But Rand can explain what he believes, and does a better job of going out and trying to enact it.”
Whereas most candidates can at most hand off a list of contacts, Rep. Paul would hand off to his son an infrastructure, an organization (Campaign for Liberty) and a hard-core group of supporters looking to carry on the movement.
-- Meanwhile, Paul continues to remind the GOP: it can't count on him and his fans as a given:
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said Monday he hasn't decided whether he will support the party's eventual nominee, saying concerns over spending, foreign policy and civil liberties could keep him from endorsing the winner.
"I haven't decided," Paul said when asked about whether he would support the GOP candidate during an appearance Monday on WMAL, a Washington, D.C., radio station. "I want us to stand for something," he added.
Paul also left the door wider open than he has in past statements about a potential third-party bid, saying he would weigh an outside run "after the votes are counted."
"Why do it now in the middle of a race? I have a lot of campaign events," Paul said.
Indeed he does. Ron Paul continues his string of huge events this week in California.
This weekend, Ron Paul Faced The Nation with some hard truths about Afghanistan, and insists he's still around and will continue to be: "There's no way I'm gonna stop speaking out...I'm trying to save the Republican Party from itself."
He also says he doesn't see how he could end up on a Romney-headed ticket. "I have no common ground on economics. He isn't worried about the Federal Reserve and he isn't worried about the foreign policy and he doesn't talk about civil liberties."
My forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.