Is Ron Paul being ignored?
Over the weekend, the Washington Post’s ombudsman — essentially the voice of readers within the walls of the organization — questioned whether Texas Rep. Ron Paul was getting coverage commensurate with his standing in the 2012 presidential race.
His conclusion? “I think The Post could have done much better on Ron Paul.”
Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton agrees. “Dr. Paul has emerged as a top-tier candidate in this race and deserves coverage befitting that status,” he wrote in an email to The Fix.
But is that sentiment right? Is Paul really getting short-shrift from mainstream media outlets vis-a-vis his standing in polls? And, if so, why?
Let’s start with where polling shows Paul.
In the most recent Gallup national survey of the 2012 Republican field, Paul took 13 percent — good for third place behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
And in a July Washington Post/ABC News survey, Paul clocked in at nine percent — fourth place behind Romney, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. (Perry took eight percent although he was not in the race at that time.)
There is more limited (quality) data to go on in early states.
In a recent Iowa poll conducted for Perry’s super PAC, Paul took nine percent, which put him in fourth place behind Perry, Bachmann and Romney. And in New Hampshire, Paul received nine percent in a CNN/WMUR poll in late May; that was good enough for second place but far behind Romney who led the field with 32 percent.
Those data points suggest that on numbers alone Paul is hovering around the first tier — a grouping of candidates that includes Perry, Bachmann and Romney at the moment.
Aside from that trio there is no other candidate — with the possible exception of Palin — who is consistently garnering significant and steady support both in national and early state polls.
And yet talk to almost anyone in politics — Republicans or Democrats — and the idea of Paul as a top-tier candidate for president is greeted with either a laugh or an eye roll (or both.)
Paul appears to be suffering from the “once bitten, twice shy” tendency of the media.
In 2008, Paul emerged as a major(ish) story as a combination of his early straw poll victories coupled with his surprising ability to raise money — thanks in large part to the web — made him a somewhat buzz-worthy candidate.
And then, flameout. Or more accurately, a failure to launch.
For all of the excitement surrounding Paul, he failed to win a single primary or caucus — or, really, even come close.
Paul finished second in Nevada’s Jan. 19 Republican caucuses but he won just 6,084 votes — less than a third of the total for Romney who cruised to a victory in the state. (Most of the other serious contenders for the nomination didn’t contest Nevada, choosing to focus their time on South Carolina, which voted the same day.)
In every other early state vote (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida) Paul finished fifth — points for consistency! — and never got more than 10 percent of the vote in any one of them.
The conclusion most people drew from those results: Paul’s support was a mile deep but an inch wide. (For more on that belief, check out our piece on how Paul is like the now-canceled television show “Friday Night Lights”.)
At issue is whether the lessons learned about Paul in 2008 still apply to him in 2012 or whether this candidacy is fundamentally different — and stronger — than the Congressman’s last bid.
One Paul adviser insisted that comparisons to 2008 were no longer operable noting that a number of positive changes had happened between then and now — most importantly on the staff front where a number of the people involved in Sen. Rand Paul’s (Ky.) 2010 victory are now on board with his father’s campaign.
“The [Kentucky] Senate race is particularly important to how the current presidential campaign functions because it demonstrates the model for fusing the support for Congressman Paul’s core issues with winning campaign strategy and tactics,” explained the adviser.
The source also pointed out that Paul has already demonstrated an ability to grow his support base beyond the loyalists who turned out for him and donated money to him during the 2008 race.
As evidence,the source cited the 2011 Ames Straw poll where he won nearly 4,700 votes — more than three times the 1,300 he won four years prior at the same event. (Of course, winning low turnout straw polls is not the same as winning caucuses or primaries.)
But perhaps the strongest case that Paul backers make is that the issue positions he has staked out — deep suspicion of U.S. monetary policy, a desire to end foreign wars and return troops back to our country — have gone from outliers in 2008 to topics of serious discussion in 2012.
People like Mississippi governor Haley Barbour and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman have voiced skepticism about continued involvement in certain foreign theaters — although not nearly as bluntly as Paul — and there is a growing sense within the GOP field that policy-makers’ attempts at solving the economy’s woes simply won’t work.
“The issues he has consistently championed — debt, deficits, destruction of the dollar, and even defense of our country — are the reason he is gaining support,” argued one Paul loyalist.
Paul, himself, said in a speech at the Ames Straw Poll that “the mainstream has come in our direction” adding: “The vast majority of people are with us on ending the wars and changing the Federal Reserve system.”
Paul’s push toward a more libertarian-leaning message from the Republican party may well be his ultimate contribution to the race. Perry and Bachmann, in particular, have put limited government at the core of their pitch to voters. (Supporters of both undoubtedly will argue that has nothing at all to do with Paul.)
As for Paul as a messenger, the political future seems more dim. It’s hard to imagine the GOP would choose a 76-year old Texan who ran for president as a libertarian in 1988 as its nominee against President Obama in 2012.
Stranger things may have happened in politics. But we can’t think of many.