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Ron Beats Rudy?
New Hampshire could surprise a lot of people.
BY ANDREW CLINE
Sunday, December 30, 2007 12:01 a.m.
Wall Street Journal - Opinion Journal
MANCHESTER, N.H.--For several hours last Sunday, more than a dozen Ron Paul volunteers stood in snowdrifts in the rain outside the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester waving at last-minute Christmas shoppers and handing out hundreds of yards signs.
The campaign doesn't know how many people participated because, as with so many Paul rallies, this one was organized entirely by fans not officially associated with the campaign.
"We told them to take Christmas Eve and Christmas off, and next thing we know they're doing a sign wave at the mall," said Jim Forsythe, a self-employed engineer and former Air Force pilot from Strafford, N.H., who independently organizes volunteer efforts for Ron Paul.
That spontaneous grassroots support is why Mr. Paul, an obstetrician from Lake Jackson, Texas, could pull off a stunner on Jan. 8 and place third in New Hampshire's Republican primary. If he does, he would embarrass Rudy Giuliani and steal media limelight from John McCain and Mitt Romney, who are battling for first place.
Many Republican operatives in New Hampshire, even those affiliated with other campaigns, think Mr. Paul is headed for an impressive, double-digit performance. That he has been polling in the high single digits for months is discounted, because the polls may be missing the depth of his support.
Why? For starters, he appears to be drawing new voters. Polls that screen for "likely" voters might screen out many Paul supporters who haven't voted often, or at all, before. Many of Mr. Paul's supporters appear to be first-time voters. They will be able to cast their ballots because New Hampshire allows them to register and vote on the day of an election.
Even Mr. Paul's New Hampshire spokesman, Kate Rick, is an unlikely political activist. She grew up in a political family in Washington, D.C. and says "I swore I would never work in politics." She changed her mind only after finding Mr. Paul, a candidate she says she can finally believe in. "Most people I know in the grass roots are like that," she said. "My closest friends have never voted before, and they're die-hard Paul people now."
There is another reason to discount the polls on Mr. Paul. The one thing that unites his supporters is a desire to be left alone, not only by government, but by irritating marketers and meddling pollsters, too. Mr. Paul's supporters might well be screening their calls and not-so-inadvertently screening out pollsters. Still, some observers of the primary race here downplay this support, noting that a lot of the activists who show up in news stories are not state residents and won't be voting.
It is true that Paul supporters from New York, New Jersey and even California are prominent at campaign rallies. But volunteers and campaign staffers say that, although out-of-state volunteers often are the most flamboyant and can attend daytime rallies while local supporters are at work, they do not outnumber the locals.
"Ninety percent [of his supporters] are from New Hampshire," says Jared Chicoine, Mr. Paul's New Hampshire coordinator. Keith Murphy, a former Democratic campaign worker from Maryland who owns Murphy's Taproom in Manchester, has held several Paul rallies at his restaurant, which has become a regular hangout for the Paul crowd. When the candidate shows up, about 75% of the activists at an event are from out of state, he said, but on other nights it's about 50-50.
Regardless of where they are from, organizing Mr. Paul's supporters is a challenge. "This is entirely grassroots oriented to the point that the official campaign structure seems almost lost, to the point that they don't know what to do with all these people," Mr. Murphy said.
On their own initiative, and at their own expense, Paul volunteers hold rallies, print and distribute brochures and even purchase ads. "I pick up the paper and say, wow, there's an ad and it's not my ad," Mr. Chicoine told me.
The buzz surrounding the Paul campaign is reminiscent of the grassroots campaign Democrat Carol Shea-Porter waged against Republican Rep. Jeb Bradley last year. Polls showed Mrs. Shea-Porter trailing by 19 points in October. With almost no money and no support from the Democratic establishment, she came from behind and beat the congressman 51% to 49%.
Many are wondering if the polls are similarly missing Mr. Paul's momentum. Mrs. Shea-Porter and Mr. Paul have very different ideas about how to use the power of government, but both strongly oppose the war in Iraq. And Mrs. Shea-Porter ran last year as a fiscal conservative, so it's possible Mr. Paul could win over many Republicans who voted for her last year.
Mr. Chicoine and other Paul supporters say that, contrary to conventional wisdom, most of Mr. Paul's backers are Republicans, not independents. But everyone agrees that Mr. Paul draws an unusual mix of libertarians, fiscally conservative Democrats, conservative Republicans, home-schoolers, vegans, gambling aficionados, anti-abortion activists and others who want the government to butt out of some aspect of their lives.
But will they get out to vote on primary day?
"I've never seen a group of people that are this energetic about a candidate," Mr. Murphy said. "It's something else."
That sentiment is shared by Republicans who have observed numerous New Hampshire primaries. The level of enthusiasm for Mr. Paul is remarkable, they say. It transcends the state's Libertarian base (about 4% of the electorate). And by many accounts, Mr. Paul's backers here are more energized and committed than are supporters of Mr. Giuliani, who may enjoy inflated poll numbers because of his celebrity status.
National attention is focused on the horse races between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and between Messrs. McCain and Romney. But the shy obstetrician from Texas could be the surprise story of the New Hampshire primary.
Mr. Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Copyright © 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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