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Ron Paul: Could he win the Iowa caucuses?

August 15, 2011 |  2:06 am

Rick Perry new campaign Bus Iowa 8-14-11

Could the guy from Texas possibly win the Republican Iowa caucuses come January? And kick off the actual GOP nomination race with a surprising big bang?

By 'the guy from Texas' we don't mean Gov. Rick Perry, who announced his own candidacy before a gathering of conservative writers in South Carolina Saturday. He could well win it too.

But we're talking now about the other Texan in the Republican race, the elderly 11-term congressman named Ron Paul.

Once upon a time the libertarian-like Paul was considered a fringe candidate.

He still is.

The trouble for mainstream Republicans is that Paul's devoted disciples just keep on carving out apparent victories for the kindly old guy, whose son Rand is now a U.S. senator from Kentucky. The senior Paul is an Air Force vet and retired ob-gyn. He's now five years older than John McCain was when everyone said John McCain was too old to move into the White House.

History would suggest he has little or no chance of becoming the nominee, let alone the president. But history also suggests that a dedicated band of hardcore believers could in a crowded field produce an upset win for Paul come that chilled caucus night in January. It worked for Huckabee, who won the caucuses in 2008 after finishing second in the 2007 straw poll.

Most of the attention from Saturday's Ames Straw Poll has focused on another House member, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota via Iowa. With a gritty determination and fresh appeal, Bachmann captured the straw poll win, which is meaningless except from a PR point of view.

It thrust her onto five of the Sunday blab shows making rare forays outside the Beltway, giving her a national podium to reach millions of Americans. This week she's in South Carolina.Ron Paul talks with ames straw poll voters 8-13-11

But less noticed was Paul's showing, second place, only 152 votes behind the media starlette. Think he would have been invited onto all five Sunday shows?

Uh, no.

But it's interesting to speculate on Paul's outlook. Since 2008, the issues and the electorate have moved in his direction.

Everyone agrees Tim Pawlenty is a really decent guy, accomplished as Minnesota's governor and well organized in Iowa. But he badly trailed Paul Saturday and dropped out Sunday. Why?

One good reason is Pawlenty's calm, reasoned demeanor did not reflect the high-octane....

...frustration and powerful dissatisfaction among millions of Americans over jobs, the economy, the wars, the deficits, the fears, the debts, the bickering, the behavior by anyone in D.C.

So many things that once were givens in American life now seem in jeopardy. And this Obama guy has presided over the 32 months when these things worsened. Those unhappy, frightened folks want a standard bearer who is as passionate about opposition to things Obama as they are.

Michele Bachmann is and she won the straw poll. Ron Paul is and he came in a close second. Rick Perry is and he came in ahead of Mitt Romney, even with write-ins.

Paul ran as a Libertarian in 1988 and no one cares. He ran in 2007-08 as a Republican and was dismissed as, well, a fringe candidate. Fox News didn't even let Paul in the New Hampshire debate, though he'd just bested Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson in Iowa.

This time Paul has more organization on the ground in Iowa and a lot more unhappy people than in 2008.

Already today Paul's Iowa effort faces Perry, who's smooth campaign launch overshadowed Ames, moved onto New Hampshire, entered Iowa Sunday evening and now has the bus wheels that are de rigeur in Iowa this year (see top photo from Des Moines Sunday).

Romney, burned by his expensive straw poll win in 2007 followed by an embarrassing caucus loss, has left Iowa wide open for Paul, Bachmann and Perry, any of whom have ready connections to the state's strong evangelical vote that gave the Rev. Mike Huckabee his only 2008 win.

On Saturday at the RedState Gathering of conservative writers in South Carolina Perry launched a blistering attack on Obama and his policies, vowing, "I will work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your lives as I can."

It's been 130 years since a sitting House member moved into the White House, James Garfield in 1881.

The last three presidents were all elected on their first try for the top electoral prize.

Another revealing historical fact: Americans prefer executives over legislators as chief executives. Of the last six presidents, one was a sitting vice president and four were, you guessed it, governors.

 -- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Robin Abcarian / Los Angeles Times; Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press (Paul during the straw poll, Aug. 13).

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