He came in a close second in August’s Iowa straw poll and won this weekend’s straw poll at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of social conservatives.
Paul’s unwavering ideals of small government and free markets, which rendered him a quirky sideshow for decades, have gained traction amid concerns about rising government debt. His longtime opposition to the existence of the Federal Reserve, income tax and foreign aid is now shared by many in his party.
But he must convert the increased support to a broad base if he is to reach the top tier of potential nominees — a goal he set for himself at a recent candidate debate. That won’t be an easy task for the 76-year-old congressman, whose trademark speeches on economic theory and constitutional provisions often befuddle audiences.
“When he goes to the general public and starts speaking about the Austrian school of economics, I’m afraid that some people just stop listening,” said state Rep. Jason Schultz, who heads the local chapter of Farmers for Ron Paul.
The Paul campaign is doing a few things to try to lure supporters. First, it’s trying to increase his exposure by getting him on the trail and on television screens more often. Paul has made 22 trips to Iowa since declaring his candidacy in May, compared with nine such visits by this point in his last bid. His staff has been running television commercials in four early-primary states since July, at a cost of $1.8 million. In 2007, the team had no TV advertising until the end of the year.
Second, the campaign is trying to tap more diverse groups. A television commercial that shows Vietnam veterans backing Paul and refers to his stints as a surgeon in the Air Force and in the Air National Guard started airing at the end of September. Outreach efforts that target groups including farmers and evangelicals are underway.
‘Anchor to the right’
Paul’s rising profile is affecting the tone of the Republican contest — and perhaps even the party — strategists said.
“He serves as an anchor to the right that will have a Romney or a Perry appealing more to libertarian bases,” said Ron Christie, a GOP strategist who served as a special assistant to President George W. Bush and is unaffiliated this year. “They will not want to be outflanked by him.”