When I got to my first hotel in New Hampshire the front page of the complimentary Union Leaders hyped the Fox News debate purge of Ron Paul. Tonight, stopping by the Paul offices to get a flavor of the mounting GOTV effort, I saw a press release from New Hampshire GOP chairman Fergus Cullen that, when I checked my e-mail, had just been sent out:
"The first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary serves a national purpose by giving all candidates an equal opportunity on a level playing field. Only in New Hampshire do lesser known, lesser funded underdogs have a fighting chance to establish themselves as national figures. Consistent with that tradition, we believe all recognized major candidates should have an equal opportunity to participate in pre-primary debates and forums.
"This principle applies to tonight's debates on ABC as well as Sunday's planned forum on FOX. The New Hampshire Republican Party believes Congressmen Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter should be included in the FOX forum on Sunday evening. Our mutual efforts to resolve this difference have failed."
"While we understand that FOX News continues to move forward it is with regret, the New Hampshire Republican Party hereby withdraws as a partner in this forum."
The feeling among some (not all) Paul people is that the anti-Fox backlash has been better for them, in the long run, than 6 or 7 minutes of Paul talking on a thinly-viewed Sunday forum. More people might hear about the Paul exclusion in their newspapers than would have watched the thing. I'm not 100 percent sure: It can't be good when you're sharing nut grafs with Duncan Hunter.
Meanwhile, unless it's an outlier, this Rasmussen poll makes the exclusion look even siller. It clocks Paul at 14 percent for third place, primed to defeat Rudy Giuliani again. The average of all the tracking polls shows Paul closer to high single digits, but everyone's expecting a boost from angry, little-polled rural voters in the northern part of the state.