Much of the media and pundit-class have already pronounced the Republican primary a troika: Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann. That assumption may merit revision. According to a new Gallup survey, Texas libertarian Rep. Ron Paul has risen to third place among GOP primary voters, pushing aside Bachmann. Perry has taken the lead since his recent campaign announcement at 29%, dislodging heretofore front runner Mitt Romney to second place at 17%, followed by Paul at 13%. Bachmann scored 10% and the rest of the field registered in single digits.
It still remains to be seen if Perry will maintain his lead. The Texan may simply be witnessing an ephemeral euphoria after throwing his Stetson hat into the race. As the head of another polling company recently said, “Gov. Perry is enjoying a bounce from entering the race as precisely the right time. Now the difficult part begins for the new frontrunner. It’s much easier winning support when people are hoping you get in the race, than retaining support when you are the frontrunner.”
Bachmann also quickly jumped in the polls after declaring her bid only to nearly as quickly slump. Until recently, Romney led in the polls – but failed to endear much enthusiasm with many Republicans simply resigning themselves to him for lack of a better and more electable candidate.
But Ron Paul has cultivated a dedicated following since his 2008 presidential bid. Mostly young, college students animated by the unapologetic libertarianism. And they are determined to raise Paul’s stature in the Republican field. In the first electoral contest of the primary season, the Iowa Ames Straw poll, thanks to the organizational prowess of Paul’s supporters, the candidate came within a hair (152 votes) of besting Bachmann. Paul’s second place finish was a strong showing and better than more press-touted candidates. Tim Pawlenty, for instance, placed third and the next day declared the end of his campaign.
Paul has done better than most Republicans in fundraising and at the polls, consistently polling in the top five in many surveys.
The campaign does suffer from one obstinate reality: For most journalists, Paul remains an obscure subject not worthy of coverage. “How did libertarian Ron Paul become the 13th floor of a hotel?” ‘Daily Show’ anchor Jon Stewart recently quipped. Paul’s supporters are determined to break the sound barrier, however, which Paul credits to the press being “frightened by me challenging the status quo and the establishment.”
It is probably rare to find a Paul supporter who believes he will win the nomination. And the campaign has even less hope for the presidency, although Paul may be a formidable and decisive third-party candidate. Instead his supporters are more interested in a long-fought battle to infuse a libertarian spirit in the Republican party overtime rather than any immediate marks. For many their hope is to raise Paul’s prominence in a Third Party-type manner whereby more mainstream candidates eventually adopt his positions in order to enlist his supporters.
Paul’s base make cause ripples, or even a few tsunamis, this season. Primaries feature low voter attendance and thus are propitious to Paul’s highly-energized and well-organized supporters to take a stand and garner a significant percentage of the vote, even third-place would be a victory. Much of the media may remain resigned to ignore Paul, but if Paul holds strong at third place against, say, Bachmann that tone deaf posture may be harder to maintain.