WASHINGTON — Ron Paul has yet to win a single state, but he likely will have a say in what happens at the Republican Convention. By amassing delegates in the caucus states, Paul may have left the Republican leadership with no choice but to offer him a prominent place at the GOP national convention this summer.
Five caucus states have voted to date and according to the Associated Press delegate count, Paul isn’t projected to win any national delegates in Iowa, Colorado or Minnesota. He received five in Nevada and ten in Maine. Mitt Romney leads the overall delegate count with 123, followed by Santorum at 72, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 32. Paul is in fourth place, with 19 delegates.
The Texas congressman hasn’t come near to winning the popular vote in each state to this point. But, 1,144 delegates are required to win the Republican nomination for president. Paul’s campaign aides say their familiarity with caucus rules combined with the passion of Paul’s supporters offers a unique ability to take advantage of the complicated delegate process.
Paul’s campaign manager, John Tate, said “We are confident that when all is said and done and some of these caucus states finish their process that we will end up with either a good plurality or a majority of the delegates out of Maine, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, possibly Colorado.”
Political parties in many caucus states use a multistep process to award national delegates. AP used results from local caucuses in those states to project how many national delegates candidates would win if they manage to maintain the same level of support until the convention. But, local caucuses are just the first step and things can change a number of times.
120,000 caucus goers attended local caucuses on Jan. 3 in Iowa. In the straw poll Rick Santorum barely edged out Romney and Paul finished third, about 3,000 votes behind. However, while the national media focuses solely on the straw polls, they are just the beginning of the process. In Iowa the process means the caucus-elected delegates will attend county conventions in March. Those conventions will elect delegates to congressional district conventions in April and the state GOP convention in June.
If no candidate has a clear majority by the time of the national convention, there will be a number of wild cards to consider. In Florida, for example, state leadership declared the primary vote a winner-take-all affair, awarding all of its delegates to Mitt Romney. When Florida moved its primary to January it total delegates were cut from 99 to 49.
The national Republican Party also stated that no state holding primaries before Super Tuesday could winner-take-all. As a result, Newt Gingrich is challenging the Florida vote and pressing for delegates to be awarded proportionately. If that happens, Romney’s lead shrinks.
So how does this pave the way for Ron Paul to have a greater impact on the national convention than ever before? Imagine a primetime speech at the GOP convention in which he challenges the party line on international affairs. The leadership may have no choice but to cringe and allow it.
“Paul is fascinating because good ol’ Ron will say just about anything he wants to say at any particular time,” said Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. “And the last thing you want somebody doing is going off message in primetime at a convention.”
During an interview, Paul’s campaign manager said, “The ultimate goal is obviously still to win, to get enough delegates there to win the nomination. I think there’s lot of secondary goals, to make sure that our and Dr. Paul’s views are represented at the convention, represented in the platform.” He added, “We want to make sure that the Republican Party understands that we are a major part of the Republican Party.”
While Paul’s libertarian views make a nice fit with mainstream Republican ideas on limited government and low taxes, his views on foreign policy do not. “Following the Constitution, don’t police the world, don’t participate in all this nation-building, cut spending, cut taxes, cut deficits — these are traditional Republican principles,” said David Fischer, vice chairman of Paul’s campaign in Iowa. “I consider the view of these Republicans who want to simply grow the size and scope of the government, that’s outside of Republican mainstream.”
Rich Galen, a GOP strategist thinks Paul is guaranteed a speaking spot at the convention, and has a good chance for concessions in the party platform, as long as they don’t diverge too far from mainstream Republican positions.
There is precedent for the losing candidate to make a bigger splash than the candidate who ends up with the most delegates. One need only look back at the Republican National Convention of 1976. Gerald Ford won the nomination but Ronald Reagan gained the nation’s attention. Ford lost to a virtual unknown in Jimmy Carter and Reagan returned in 1980 to lead his party to two terms in the White House.