By Peter Grier
Ron Paul did pretty well in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday. He placed second, slightly outperforming pre-election polls, and – perhaps more importantly – he tripled the number of votes he got in the Granite State when he ran for president in 2008. More and more, many in the GOP are realizing that this time around Ron Paul is a significant phenomenon that’s not going to fade away once the early primaries are over.
They’re also realizing that it’s counterproductive to dismiss the Texas libertarian’s followers as cranks, college students in favor of drug legalization, or disaffected liberals. The 2012 general election is likely to be close, and the GOP will need all the voters it can get.
Thus some in the GOP are beginning to make conciliatory noises about the Paulites. Tea party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina on Wednesday said that the Republican presidential candidates need to listen to Ron Paul and might do well to adopt some of his ideas, particularly on economics.
“One of the things that’s hurt the so-called conservative alternative [candidates] is saying negative things about Ron Paul,” said Senator DeMint on conservative Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “I’d like to see a Republican Party that embraces a lot of the libertarian ideas.”
How badly does the GOP need Paul’s voters? Consider this: In New Hampshire, Paul won 47 percent of voters aged 18 to 29.
Making inroads into Barack Obama’s appeal to younger demographics is high on the Republican National Committee’s to-do list. Keeping Paul adherents on the reservation would be one easy way to do that.
Plus, as the National Journal’s Major Garrett notes in a story Tuesday, young voters equal enthusiasm – and the GOP looks like it might actually have a developing enthusiasm problem.
Turnout in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries was fairly strong, but still less than what top Republicans in both states had predicted. If Mitt Romney becomes the nominee, as now appears likely, the party may need as many exciting surrogates as it can get on the campaign trail to try to inject energy into the race.
“Paul isn’t the only remedy. But he’s undoubtedly part of it,” writes the National Journal’s Garrett.
Paul could also be a means to keep committed fiscal conservatives happy with the GOP ticket if Mr. Romney is the eventual nominee. Paul’s non-interventionist views on foreign policy are out of step with many Republican voters, but his call for deep cuts in government spending, and his distrust of the Federal Reserve, are not. It’s possible some of Paul’s economic positions could find their way into the party platform.
Paul won 32 percent of voters in the New Hampshire primary who said the budget deficit was the one issue that most decided their vote. That result was a hair behind Romney, who won 34 percent of such voters. But Paul cleaned up among voters who said the one quality they most wanted in a candidate was for him to be a true conservative. The Texan took 41 percent of that vote. Romney got only 13 percent.
Hmm. It looks like Paul voters aren’t all Democrats who are disaffected with the current administration, does it?
As a last bit of evidence as to why the GOP needs Ron Paul voters, look at the Republican nightmare: Romney as the nominee, and Paul as a third-party candidate.
In mid-December, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found Romney versus Obama to be a toss-up, with each candidate winning 47 percent. Inject a Ron Paul third party bid into this equation, however, and Obama wins, taking a plurality of 42 percent to Romney’s 32 percent and Paul’s 21 percent.
“Should Paul decide that his cause is best championed via a third party bid for president, the impact would be disastrous for Republicans next fall,” wrote Washington Post political analyst Chris Cillizza on Wednesday in a story titled “Ron Paul is the most dangerous man in the Republican Party.”
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