Paul came in fifth in the Ames straw poll in 2007, yet as that contest repeats itself on Saturday, his campaign has more money and higher name recognition. His philosophy of cutting spending, balancing the budget and rejecting compromise on shrinking the size of government is a rallying cry for the Republican and tea party faithful.
(To supporters, the reading of the Constitution on the House floor on the first day of the new Congress was a key sign that Paul’s approach to legislation — he reads every bill with an eye toward whether it is constitutional — had made its way to Washington.)
The Iowa contest will be a key measure of whether Paul can turn his loose but fervent support network, which is young and Web-savvy, into an organized voting bloc in Iowa.
The campaign hasn’t set a very high bar for success.
“We would be happy with anything better than last time,” said Gary Howard, the national press secretary for Paul’s campaign. “Last time people didn’t take him seriously, but hopefully people will take him seriously now.”
Yet whether Paul wins it all on Saturday is not necessarily an accurate predictor of the Texas lawmaker’s influence on the 2012 race. How he scores will affect the chances of the other competitors. For instance, if Paul polls better than Michele Bachmann, the emotional favorite who has been gaining momentum among conservatives, the Minnesota congresswoman’s campaign could be damaged. If he does better than Tim Pawlenty, problems with the former Minnesota governor’s campaign would be multiplied. And a victory over Rick Santorum, who has moved his family to Iowa, could help end the former Pennsylvania senator’s presidential bid.
Paul and Paul on tour
On Wednesday, Paul, 75, kicks off a tour of Iowa with his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is philosophically a carbon copy of his father and whose 2010 victory is further proof that Republicans in Congress have shifted toward Paul.
Both Pauls voted against the debt-ceiling increase, and the other 2012 presidential contenders, with the exception of Jon Huntsman Jr., opposed the agreement.
In Iowa, the Paul campaign has reached out to several important constituents, most notably home-schoolers, who powered former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s strong 2008 showing in the state.
And a recent “Ready, Ames, Fire” fundraiser, or “moneybomb” in Paul parlance, brought half a million dollars to the Paul campaign, in addition to the $4.5 million that the campaign raised in the last quarter.
Paul has a die-hard group of supporters, who often take a do-it-yourself approach to campaigning, with very little coordination with the campaign’s high command.