WASHINGTON -- A prominent Iowa Republican, and a major supporter of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, did not hesitate to answer when asked recently how many of the Hawkeye State's 28 delegates he expects Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) to have heading into the national convention in Tampa this August.
"Twenty," he said.
Conversations with numerous Iowa Republicans confirms the same thing: The state party establishment is dreading a Paul rout on June 15 and 16 at the two-day congressional district/state convention in Des Moines.
"Paul is costing the state a lot of credibility," said Bob Haus, a GOP consultant who most recently headed up Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign in the state.
Another Republican operative who works for a statewide official sounded an even more despondent note.
"It does not sound encouraging. The Paul people are in a position to control the delegates, and the result would be chaotic for the Republican Party of Iowa and bring it to a screeching halt, rendering it completely irrelevant to our efforts here," the Republican aide told The Huffington Post. "Nobody would rely on [the state party] for anything."
After the fiasco earlier this year involving the caucus results, Iowans are nervous that if Paul gets a majority of the delegates, it will endanger their first-in-the-nation primary status. On Jan. 3, Romney was reported the winner, only to have the state GOP announce two weeks later that the result was inconclusive, then to reverse again and say that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was the victor. The party chairman, Matt Strawn, resigned as a result of the confusion.
So the prospect of a third candidate winning the state is causing ulcer-level heartburn, especially since Paul came in third in the popular vote. But that isn't stopping Paul's supporters -- known among other things as Paulites, Paulinistas and to their most critical detractors, Paulbots -- from moving forward with their plan to try to win more delegates in Iowa and other states than was reflected in the popular vote.
Paul is estimated to have won only one delegate thus far in Iowa by most estimates. But the caucus system is essentially a series of rounds of voting, or "delegates electing delegates electing delegates," as a top Paul campaign official put it (click here for a full run down of how the Iowa process works). And Paul supporters are the most engaged with this process.
Jesse Benton, the national chairman for Paul's campaign, told HuffPost that Iowa is not the only place they think they can win a large swath of delegates.
"Iowa is still very much in play, and there is a lot of work to do," Benton said. "However, we are confident of our strength and are working hard. We have similar prospects in seven other states."
Benton told HuffPost last November that the Paul campaign would be competing hard for delegates in Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, Washington and Nevada.
Sure enough, Paul has already won 20 out of the 24 delegates allocated in Minnesota, by winning a majority of the congressional district contests. There are another 13 at-large delegates up for grabs on May 19 at the state convention.
In Maine, Paul is expected to be in the running for at least eight of the state's 24 delegates heading into this weekend's district caucuses and state convention.
In Washington, delegates will be allotted at the state convention at the end of May. And in Nevada, Paul supporters say they hope to turn out about 65 percent of the attendees to the state convention this Saturday and Sunday, as they compete for 25 of the state's 28 delegates. Like in most states, three delegate slots are automatic and go to Nevada's GOP chairman, their national committee man and their national committee woman.
It's not just Iowa Republicans or other state parties that are starting to worry. The national Republican Party is perking up and starting to take notice. The Republican National Committee's chief counsel, John R. Phillippe Jr., on Wednesday sent a letter to the Nevada GOP chairman, Michael McDonald, essentially warning him that the state party should prevent Paul supporters from taking over this weekend's state convention.
"Each candidate is entitled to have delegates supporting him elected to the delegate slots that he earned in the Presidential Preference Poll," Phillippe wrote, referring to the results of the Feb. 4 caucus, which Romney won with 50 percent of the popular vote.
Jon Ralston, the chief political writer for the Las Vegas Sun, wrote late Wednesday that the RNC appears to fear Paul supporters "taking Mitt Romney slots and then not abiding by GOP rules to vote for the presumptive nominee on the first ballot in Tampa."
Phillippe's letter threatens that the RNC may not seat the entire Nevada delegation at the convention in Tampa if it has reason to believe that the Paul supporters have captured more delegate slots than the rules allow.
Benton, in an email exchange with HuffPost, wouldn't name the last two states where the campaign has prospects and is competing hard for delegates. But there has been plenty of attention around the success of Paul's supporters in Louisiana and Massachusetts over the past few days. In Louisiana, Paulites "dominated" the congressional district caucuses this past Saturday, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Paul's supporters carried four of the state's congressional districts, and are guaranteed at least 17 of 46 delegates in the Bayou State, with the potential to pick up more at the state convention on June 2.
The other state that Benton likely has his eye on is Colorado, where the Denver Post reported in mid-April that Paul supporters and Santorum backers combined forces to win a "stunning upset" at the state convention, guaranteeing that about half of the state's 33 delegates will be for Paul in August.
And there are other states where Paul can pick up delegates, or where he has reportedly already picked off a few: Alaska, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
Romney's home state of Massachusetts is a special case. Because Romney won the popular vote in the state's March 6 primary, all 38 delegates are bound by party rules to support him on the first ballot at the national convention. But in the congressional district conventions this past weekend, Paul supporters captured 16 delegate spots out of 27 that were elected (another 11 at-large delegates are elected at the state committee meeting on June 15).
If the RNC is concerned about Paul supporters from Nevada defying the rules on the first ballot in Tampa, that worry could extend to the Massachusetts delegates.
Despite the drama, it's still not clear what immediate tangible benefit these delegates will yield for Paul and his devoted followers. Romney still appears to be set to reach 1,144 delegates, the number he needs to clinch the nomination.
But at the very least, Paul's delegate total and the willingness of his supporters to vote for him on the floor in Tampa is certain to draw attention to his cause and his message of limited government. It seems somewhat unlikely that Paul would forego the chance to see his supporters give the GOP establishment fits on the convention floor, under a nationally televised microscope, simply to gain a better speaking slot at the four-day event.
So he may be simply building a movement with a view toward giving his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a head start for the 2016 race.
And some Republicans said he has already succeeded in pushing the Republican Party so far to the right on fiscal and budgetary matters that it has paid tangible dividends at the legislative level.
"There are a lot of establishment Republicans who need to thank Ron Paul for injecting a certain amount of courage to do what people always said needed to be done but where they also said, 'How do we do that?'" Iowa state Rep. Erik Helland said.
Helland said that in 2011, the legislature "deappropriated" $500 million over three years from programs such as state-mandated pre-school, government employee benefits and other programs that usually cause an outcry. Helland, who is the majority whip, said that on the Monday after they announced the spending cuts, he got back to Des Moines and "braced" himself for news of outrage from other state representatives who had spent the weekend meeting with constituents.
"They came back and said, 'We talked to our voters, they want to cut more,'" Helland said. "It was paradigm shifting. The voters started actually saying, 'cut.'"
Helland said he gives credit to Paul, who has spent a lot of time in Iowa over the past several years, for changing the political culture.
"Paul staked out such an aggressive dialogue on cutting government that some of the steps we've taken in the legislature and at the federal level are possible because Ron Paul talked about it to the extent that it became politically palatable," Helland said.
"Ron Paul is the most successful presidential candidate in the last couple decades, even though he hasn't won the election," he continued. "He has shaped the dialogue."
Below, more on the path of Paul's campaign:
After making headway in picking up delegates at state GOP conventions, Ron Paul announced that he was putting an end to active campaigning. HuffPost's Jon Ward reports: Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said Monday that he will no longer campaign in primary states that have not yet voted, but urged those who support his candidacy for president to continue organizing in states that have voted, in order to win delegates to the national convention. "We will no longer spend resources campaigning in primaries in states that have not yet voted," Paul said in a statement. "Doing so with any hope of success would take many tens of millions of dollars we simply do not have." There are 11 states that have not yet held Republican primaries or caucuses, with Paul's home state of Texas being one of them.
HuffPost's Jon Ward reports that Paul's campaign and supporters have been efficient at locking up delegates from the Iowa caucus and beyond: Sure enough, Paul has already won 20 out of the 24 delegates allocated in Minnesota, by winning a majority of the congressional district contests. There are another 13 at-large delegates up for grabs on May 19 at the state convention. In Maine, Paul is expected to be in the running for at least eight of the state's 24 delegates heading into this weekend's district caucuses and state convention. In Washington, delegates will be allotted at the state convention at the end of May. And in Nevada, Paul supporters say they hope to turn out about 65 percent of the attendees to the state convention this Saturday and Sunday, as they compete for 25 of the state's 28 delegates. Like in most states, three delegate slots are automatic and go to Nevada's GOP chairman, their national committee man and their national committee woman. It's not just Iowa Republicans or other state parties that are starting to worry. The national Republican Party is perking up and starting to take notice. The Republican National Committee's chief counsel, John R. Phillippe Jr., on Wednesday sent a letter to the Nevada GOP chairman, Michael McDonald, essentially warning him that the state party should prevent Paul supporters from taking over this weekend's state convention.
Despite his passionate supporters, Paul's campaign has still struggled to find traction. A poll found 61 percent of Republicans want him and Newt Gingrich to exit the race, and he could be kept out of the convention by a rule requiring candidates to win the most delegates in five states. But Paul, who has earned 50 delegates, hopes to win up to 300 more as state parties make their selections.
Still without a win, Ron Paul showed no sign of abandoning his campaign after the Illinois primary. Paul has declined to say whether he'd back Mitt Romney for president. He also turned down Secret Service protection, saying, "You know, you're having the taxpayers pay to take care of somebody. I'm an ordinary citizen and I would think I should pay for my own protection." If he were to have a codename, he said, it would be "Bulldog."
After a disappointing finish on Super Tuesday, Ron Paul remains the only candidate to have not won any state primaries. Sticking to his caucus state strategy, Paul skipped the Southern primaries in Alabama and Mississippi to focus on Hawaii, hoping to score a win or at least a strong showing there. He finished in third place, winning just three delegates. But there's some good news for the Texas congressman: he won the popular vote in the GOP caucus in the U.S. Virgin Islands, winning 112 votes to Mitt Romney's 101. Meanwhile, speculation continues to swirl that the congressman will back Mitt Romney if Romney is chosen as the party's nominee. Paul refuses to comment on the speculation.
Ron Paul's campaign team says the long-shot candidate could still pull out a win in August. "A brokered convention is the most favorable situation for Ron winning the nomination," said Ron Paul's spokesman, Jesse Benton . His supporters have been accused of "causing chaos" at conventions, but he also may be on track to pick up delegates from Iowa.
Heading into Super Tuesday, Ron Paul remained the only of the four major candidates who has yet to win a state. Paul's campaign is looking to change that, targeting caucus states like North Dakota and Alaska. He was the only candidate to campaign in Alaska this election cycle.
As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum vie for first place, Ron Paul's campaign has focused most of its energy on bashing the latter, providing an unlikely assist to the Romney camp. Sam Stein reports: Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is once again providing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with a major campaign assist, going up with a 30-second advertisement in Michigan that whacks former Sen. Rick Santorum as a phony conservative Paul didn't back down from that claim in the Mesa, Arizona debate, telling the moderator he called Santorum fake, "Because he's fake." Paul also tried a new tack in his quest to win over GOP audiences to his anti-war stance on Iran, saying, "So I don't believe I'm going to get the conversion on the moral and the constitutional arguments in the near future. But I'll tell you what, I'm going to win this argument for economic reasons."
A number of factors in Maine's contest pointed to a potential opportunity for Ron Paul to pick up his first outright win in the 2012 primary. In the end, however, Mitt Romney finished in front of Paul by a narrow margin, denying the Texas congressman the opportunity to take a symbolic victory as he continues to press ahead with his delegate-centric strategy.
Ron Paul, who won straw polls at Conservative Political Action Conferences in 2010 and 2011, decided not to attend this year's event. As a result, his enthusiastic following showed up in much smaller numbers and was only able to give him 12 percent of the vote -- last place among the four candidates.
After a surprising showing in Nevada but no delegate takeaway, Ron Paul campaigned hard in Minnesota, where he hoped his devoted supporters might provide a boost in the caucuses. But Paul came in second, still leaving him as the only remaining GOP candidate without a win in any state. He says he's still picking up delegates and in the race for the long haul. Paul supporters are hoping to do well in the Maine caucus, which end Feb. 11.
After largely ignoring Florida's winner-take-all primary -- and in return being largely ignored by its voters -- Ron Paul gave his primary night speech from Nevada, where he was already on the ground campaigning. It's all part of Paul's strategy, which his campaign has described as relying on siphoning off delegates from a number of caucus states in order to remain a contender. Most of the states Paul is focusing on will allocate delegates proportionally, meaning that he won't have to finish in first in order to see a payoff. The Associated Press reports: Undeterred with just four delegates so far, Paul and his advisers say they are sticking to a strategy that avoids major commitments in expensive winner-take-all primaries, like Florida's and Arizona's, in favor of lower-cost states that proportionally allocate their delegates. "Our goal is to win. And you win by getting the maximum number of delegates," Paul said at a news conference Wednesday in Las Vegas, where he is campaigning ahead of Saturday's Nevada caucuses. "I'm delighted Nevada makes it fair, where we can compete for the votes. When we get the delegates and build up momentum, we can win." Read more here.
With Paul deciding that the Florida primary's winner-take-all format would make it pointless for him to invest time and money, the Texas congressman has taken his campaign to upcoming states such as Maine, where he stumped over the weekend. The Associated Press reports that he's also made inroads in other early-February states: Paul planned to campaign next week in other caucus states, including Nevada, which also holds its caucus on Feb. 4, and Colorado and Minnesota, which hold caucuses Feb. 7. Paul dismissed suggestions he would back any of his GOP rivals. "I think that's premature. We have a ways to go," Paul said, adding he was glad they were speaking favorably about some of his libertarian-leaning views. The Paul campaign upped its commitment to Minnesota and Nevada in late January, when it purchased large TV and radio ad buys in markets around the states.
Ron Paul has said repeatedly that his strategy is to win delegates in order to stay in the race for the long haul. His campaign will focus on the states that assign delegates proportionally rather than winner-takes-all, and hold caucuses rather than primaries. "It dawned on me that if you win elections and win delegates, that's how you promote a cause," Ron Paul told a cheering crowd after his fourth-place finish in South Carolina's primary. Paul will not run ads in Florida, and will be in his home state of Texas during the Sunshine State's Jan. 31 primary.
Even as his polling numbers remain constantly up around double-digits, Ron Paul has kept a comparatively low profile and light campaign schedule in the early primary states. National Journal reports: As his primary rivals in South Carolina claw at each other for first place and look toward Florida, Rep. Ron Paul described the strategy that explains his low profile and relative absence from this state. "The name of the game is getting delegates," the Texas Republican told CBS News/National Journal.
During a GOP presidential debate in Iowa in December, Ron Paul raised eyebrows with his anti-war policy toward a potential nuclear Iran. Paul first stated there is no proof that Iran is close to building a nuclear weapon, and said it would be a catastrophic overreaction to go to war with the country. "This is war propaganda going on. And to me, the greatest danger is that we will have a president that will overreact and we will soon bomb Iran," said Paul. The congressman's anti-war rhetoric is generally well-received, but his comments on Iran elicited a mixed reaction, with some in his own party calling him "dangerous" or "scary" for his policy policy. "Ron Paul lost the Iowa caucuses tonight," an influential Iowa Republican told HuffPost's Jon Ward after the debate. Paul came in third place in Iowa, behind Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.
Paul has established himself as a founding father of the Tea Party, representing the sort of hands off style of governance that helped birth the movement amid economic downturn and health care reform debates in 2009. But, as the movement has become more mainstream, polls now show that Paul will be in competition with his rivals for support from the conservative activists. According to a recent Gallup poll, Paul was listed as the candidate of choice by 12% of Tea Party supporters, far behind Rick Perry, who garnered 35 percent support, as well as both Romney and Bachmann, who each received 14 percent.
Though there may be an ongoing attempt within the Paul campaign to broaden his reach, some have accused the media of keeping him in the dark by imposing a blackout on the presidential candidate. Even Jon Stewart of the Daily Show called the media out in August for "pretending Ron Paul doesn't exist" in the GOP race. HuffPost's Jason Linkins concluded that, considering Paul's candidacy and results, the lack of coverage was inexcusable: But while we can all agree to be realistic about Paul's following and his chances, none of this adequately justifies not covering Ron Paul. You have to get your head out of the horserace and consider the substance. And to my mind, the best reason to cover Ron Paul is that the issues he has continually raised on the stump, and throughout his career, have a growing salience with the GOP base. Read more from Linkins on the media's seeming disinterest in Paul's candidacy here.
While power in small, dedicated circles has always been a reliable source of strength for Paul, his campaign has been working in the current election cycle to propel the congressman out of the fringe area that he has occupied in elections past. The AP reported in August: Paul's 2008 campaign came up far short of better organized rivals. This time, his advisers are putting together a more serious effort that taps into voters' frustrations with Washington and the fears about the economy. His aides are working within the system instead of against it. For instance, Paul's base camp for the Iowa straw poll was at the same location Romney used in 2007. Romney won that straw poll after investing heavily from his deep pockets for the prime real estate. Paul's campaign notes that it won more votes this year than Romney won four years ago during his first bid for the GOP nomination. This year, Romney didn't actively campaign during the straw poll; instead, he is looking at a campaign launch in New Hampshire, which hosts the first primary after Iowa's leadoff caucuses.
Rep. Paul's well-organized and devout following has led to his victory in a variety of matchups between conservative heavyweights. Paul has taken top honors at the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll two years in a row, finishing well above other big Republicans names. Paul recently finished second place in the Ames Iowa Straw Poll, tallying about 150 votes less than Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). But while his base may have propelled him into the winner's circle multiple times, it has been cited as a reason to discount Paul's broader appeal and electability. Kevin Drum at Mother Jones wrote in August: Paul has a small but fervent fan base that hasn't grown noticeably since he ran and flamed out in 2008, and he has a well-known (but meaningless) ability to fire up this little fan base for assorted minor events like this. That's his organizational ability and everyone is keenly aware of it. At the presidential level, he deserves about as much respect as Harold Stassen. If Ron Paul devotees actually inflate the candidate's actual political viability, however, their willingness to cough up cash for his campaign doesn't reflect it. The Texas congressman has managed to raise millions of dollars for his White House run through a number of short-window money bombs. In one such event in August, Paul raked in $1.6 million in small donations over a 24-hour period. CNN's Dana Bash got a taste of just how loyal Paul's supporters are. HuffPost's Jack Mirkinson reports: Bash's name has become mud among many Paul fans after she was filmed telling husband and colleague John King that, "I'm sure you talk to Republicans who are worried as well, just like I am, that Ron Paul will continue on long into the spring and summer." CNN has defended her strongly, saying that she was clearly referring to the Republicans talking to both her and King about their worries. The Paul campaign also had no quarrel with the statement, giving Bash an exclusive interviewafter the New Hampshire primary. However, other Paul supporters seized on the remark and have held Bash up as an example of mainstream media bias against their candidate. One of those supporters filmed footage of Bash being confronted by angry Paul backers in New Hampshire after Tuesday's primary.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul's libertarian affiliation has often led to his placement in a small subset of American politics that many feel is unrepresentable in the White House. Paul exhibited an extreme example of anti-federal government mindset when he said earlier this year that he would have opposed Civil Rights Act of 1964. From The Atlantic: Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul told Chris Mathews on MSNBC Friday that he would not have voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, if he were a member of congress at the time. Though Paul said that while he thought Jim Crow laws were illegal, he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act "because of the property rights element, not because they got rid of the Jim Crow laws." Video of the interview is below. Paul similarly believes that U.S. interests are better served domestically, and largely out of foreign affairs, meaning that he is staunchly against the current military engagements. Some have speculated that his position as one of the few truly anti-war candidates could give him a leg-up in the primary. Considering his libertarian bent, it should come as little surprise then that he has referred to the EPA, a federal regulatory agency often demonized by small government conservatives, as "completely unnecessary." For the rest of the Republican presidential candidates' views on the EPA, click here.