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Kate Baker, a New Hampshire Paul activist whom I interviewed for my forthcoming book Ron Paul’s Revolution the previous fall, is joyfully playing the role she calls “the goon”—blocking people from going where they shouldn’t go, directing them to where they should. No one in the office knows everyone, but she comes close. Volunteers wear “freedom fighter” laminates marking them as insiders. Four different people ask me what I’m doing there as I lurk in the foyer.
The campaign’s New Hampshire press officer, Kate Schackai, walks me through the downstairs call center, where a couple dozen kids are sitting at long tables. When someone gets a promise to vote for Paul tomorrow, the caller rings a bell. When I ask Chicoine later about another big room of phones I had been told was upstairs, he seems annoyed that I know about it. A member of the Free State Project, Neal Conner, starts telling me what he is doing for the campaign when we run into each other in the foyer; later he was upbraided for it by campaign officials.
The people running the campaign are very serious about message discipline and controlling what is revealed to the press; they don’t want volunteers talking to reporters without clearance. That’s a shame, because a legend-in-the-making political story is going on here, one that stars not Ron Paul but these dedicated, funny, excited, mostly young people. The campaign asks volunteers not to write about what they are doing for the campaign on social network sites. One volunteer at the Concord office tells of a friend who everyone thought had gone missing because he disappeared behind the Paul campaign’s wall of silence.
By the day before the New Hampshire primary, Paul, who plausibly complained about a media blackout in 2008, is so besieged by reporters that he has to cut short a visit to a diner. I arrive to find his van completely surrounded by dozens of reporters and cameras for 20 minutes, unable to move. A woman who was upset because the press crush prevented her from having her 90-year-old mother meet the candidate becomes the Paul story of the morning. By afternoon, Paul is speaking to an invitation-only group of 200 or so, mostly homeschooling families, in Hollis. Peace, liberty, sound money, spending cuts; the kids and their parents eat it up.
The morning of the primary, Paul, his wife, and some staffers make a few low-key visits to polling places. In the parking lot of a voting location in Nashua, a Comcast technician named Jerry Castaldo shakes Paul’s hand and tells him, everything you warned about, with the housing crisis and the bubble and the wars—it all came true.
At the first site we visit, Paul’s campaign is the only one represented by poll watchers, who are armed with lists of likely Paul voters in the precinct to check against arrivals; they make calls and offer rides to stragglers. The lists were hand-delivered to volunteers across the state the night before. One activist tells me she was given the wrong list for her precinct. Despite a slip or two like that, Paul’s operation comes through, and he beats most pre-election polls by five percentage points.
The Next Crusade
Paul’s campaign had offices operating in 11 states as of the week before the January 21 South Carolina primary. Its strategy aimed to maximize delegates rather than popular vote totals, which meant spending more time and effort on caucus states (like Maine) rather than winner-take all primary states (like Florida). Paul’s people had not given up hope of winning some states outright, with Maine, Nevada, Louisiana, and Washington state the leading possibilities.
Paul’s supporters are determined to prove themselves such a powerful part of the Republican coalition that the party will not be able to block them out as it did in 2008 (which inspired Paul to run a counter-convention across town from the official show in Minneapolis-St. Paul). By mid-January of 2012, Paul was tied for No. 2 in some national polls with Gingrich—but because Gingrich was losing support to Santorum and Romney, not because Paul was gaining much.
To maintain the momentum of the first two states, Paul has to start attracting voters who peel off from Gingrich and Santorum. On one level, that shouldn’t be too hard: You could sell Paul as the ultimate hard-right conservative, a man of flinty integrity and unimpeachable pro-life credentials who wants no government benefits for illegal aliens, thinks the Constitution should be the final word on government action, and wants eventually to end the entitlement state.
In Iowa exit polls, Paul came in second among those who “strongly support” the Tea Party and third among those who “somewhat support” it. Santorum won both categories. Based on the belief that Tea Party types are sincere about cutting spending, Paul’s campaign hit Santorum after his surprise rise to prominence in Iowa with ads in New Hampshire and South Carolina painting him as a big-spending faker.
In New Hampshire exit polls, Paul was second behind Romney among those who strongly or somewhat support the Tea Party. (That Tea Party identifiers are able to get behind the progenitor of RomneyCare might mean the label is past its sell-by date.) But in a sign that Paul might appeal to GOP primary voters in a straight matchup against Romney, Paul won among those whose most important candidate qualities were “true conservative” and “strong moral character.”
Some New Hampshire exit poll results are encouraging for the future of Paulism. He won among those who had never voted in a GOP primary before—that is, potential new blood for the GOP in the general election against Obama. As in Iowa, Paul won handily among 18-to-29-year-olds. Less noted, he also won among 30-to-39-year-olds. If Paul were a television show, he would be the advertisers’ favorite. If the GOP wants to have a future after its senior citizens drop off, it needs to address the concerns of the Paul armies. Paul also won among those who self-identify as independent and was second, behind Huntsman, among those who self-identify as Democrat.
In another indication that Paul and Paulism have unexpectedly wide appeal for Republicans, although Paul is himself anti-abortion and thinks it’s fine for states to ban the procedure, he won among those who called themselves “very liberal” on abortion. And despite libertarianism’s reputation as a tool for plutocrats, Paul won New Hampshire among those earning less than $30,000 a year and was tied with Romney among the under-$50,000 crowd. Evidently Paul’s small-government, low-tax, minimal-redistribution message has appeal beyond the monocle-wearing set.
Paul’s campaign manager, John Tate, formerly with the Right to Work Committee, has solid right-wing credentials. He is confident that in the area where libertarianism and conservatism should overlap most, fiscal responsibility, the Tea Party people will see that Paul, with his consistent record of never voting for an unbalanced budget and his plan calling for $1 trillion in cuts in the first year, the elimination of five federal departments, and a balanced budget with no tax hikes in three years, is preferable to Romney. If Paul can win most of the not-Romney vote, actual victory is not impossible. A mid-January ABC News/Washington Post poll asked Republican-leaning registered voters if there were any candidate they absolutely would not vote for. Paul—not surprisingly, given his radicalism and far-outside-the-GOP-mainstream foreign policy—was in the lead, at 26 percent. But that still left him a 74 percent ceiling of possible support, in addition to a whole universe of young and independent voters available in a match-up against Barack Obama.