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Breaking News: A Ron Paul surge in Nevada

January 19, 2008 |  4:02 pm

Boy, oh, boy! Hidden behind all the hoopla, headlines and the Nevada caucus victories of Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton is one little-noticed but stunning political development and number:

Ron Paul, the one-time Libertarian candidate and 10-term Republican congressman from Texas, was in second place. That's right, Second Place. The 72-year-old ob-gyn who's always on the end of the line at GOP debates or barred altogether, was running ahead of John McCain, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, in fact, ahead of....

all other Republicans except Romney, who easily captured his second state in a week after Michigan.

Now, Romney and Paul were basically the only Republicans who actively campaigned and advertised in the desert state. But a win is a win. And second place is second place. When Romney won Wyoming a couple of weeks ago, Paul won zero there.

In Iowa, Paul also beat Giuliani and he topped Thompson in New Hampshire, where Paul was excluded from the Fox News debate, which only energized his fervent followers. His jump in GOP election standings comes despite recent reports about a long series of newsletters from the 1990s carrying Paul's name and numerous racist and anti-Semitic remarks. Paul has denied writing them and denounced their contents.

Thanks to those passionate and tireless supporters, Paul, the only Republican to oppose the Iraq war and favor significant dismantling of the federal government, won about 10% of the vote in Iowa and 8% in New Hampshire, coming in just behind the former New York mayor in the Granite state.

But in Nevada today with a poor Republican turnout of less than half the Democrats (just under 45,000 vs 115,000) and with 99.7% of the precincts reporting, Romney had 22,644 votes, or 51%. Paul had about a quarter of that, 14%, or 6,084 votes.

Paul built a slow steady lead of about 400 votes over the veteran Arizona senator's 5,648 total.

Huckabee sneaked past Thompson into fourth place with 8%, or 3,613 votes, a tiny vote lead over the former Tennessee senator, who had 3,518. Both had 8%. Giuliani, who's counting on a late-state surge to salvage his one-time now-faded national front-runner status, had only 4% of the Nevada Republican vote with 1,910 ballots. And California's retiring Congressman Duncan Hunter was last again with 2% or 890 votes.

Now, of course, comes tonight's South Carolina primary vote results where Paul needs to be a bit more realistic perhaps. He's got three campaign offices there and has advertised and campaigned actively. But McCain is well-known there, has been ahead in polls, relying heavily on his strong support in the state's large active and retired military population.

And, as in Iowa where he won the caucuses, Huckabee is counting on another large turnout among South Carolina Christian evangelicals. Polls showed the Baptist preacher narrowing McCain's lead in recent days and Thompson, the former senator who's got the most riding on a strong South Carolina showing to invigorate his sagging campaign, also gaining some.

It was reported to be snowing heavily in the state's Piedmont region, where the evangelicals are concentrated, and that could depress turnout, while McCain's coastal territory was getting some cold rain. Now, whose crowd gets more depressed? And can Thompson make a strong enough showing to stay in the race? He planned to return home to ponder the future with no campaign activities planned for coming days.

The results tonight will show whether Ron Paul's fine morning and afternoon turn into a nice all-around day or not. Either way, he was likely the top GOP fundraiser in the fourth quarter, raising nearly $20 million, and his website reports gathering in another $1.34 million so far this month. So while Giuliani stopped paying his top staff this month, Paul is likely to linger long.

Paul's crowd plans another "money bomb" on Monday when thousands will deliver new donations on the same day. One previous time they did this, the Paul campaign set a new one-day online record of $6 million.

--Andrew Malcolm

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