Polls in a caucus state should always be taken with not just one, but several proverbial grains of salt.
But the latest snapshot of presidential political support in Iowa — one showing Ron Paul leading the Republican field — suggests that the libertarian/contrarian Texas congressman has a legitimate shot at winning the Hawkeye State’s first-in-the-nation caucuses Jan. 3.
That strong a showing could well create some serious challenges for the Republican Party in the months ahead. Paul’s far-out stances on the gold standard and the Federal Reserve, plus his isolationist foreign policy, will scare off big money donors and mainstream Republicans.
The shift from Iowa caucuses to ballot-box-style primaries — where Paul will have to appeal to the broader cross-section of Republicans participating — will also make it difficult for him to maintain momentum.
But a win in Iowa could well energize Paul, and provide just enough in donations to encourage him to stay in the race to keep his issues in play. Would Paul consider a run as a third-party candidate if he doesn’t get the nomination?
That’s getting way ahead of events, but it’s an intriguing question nonetheless, one that may well be keeping GOP strategists awake at night. Paul’s scorched-earth ad targeting Newt Gingrich suggests a candidate willing to jettison party loyalty to run on his principles.
Rick Perry garnered 11.2 percent, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann — for whom Iowa is a make-or-break event— was at 7.4 percent. The poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points is reason for caution. And the caucuses are still nearly two weeks away.
That’s a lot of time in a fluid race where flavor-of-month candidates peak, then fade, in quick fashion.
Just for perspective, the latest national poll from Gallup has Paul at 11 percent, well behind Gingrich and Romney, at 26 and 24 percent, respectively.
Still, Paul’s strong organization in Iowa and his young, energetic corps of supporters should translate to a strong showing in a time-consuming caucus format that rewards such strengths. If
Paul doesn’t record an outright win, placing second or third is likely. Even if the subsequent primaries don’t go well, a true-believer like Paul may well be motivated to fight on while Republicans try to rally around one candidate.
Paul’s supporters frequently complain that their candidate doesn’t get the media coverage he deserves. They should be careful what they wish for. A strong showing in Iowa would amp up the media spotlight and the vetting that comes with it.
Paul doesn’t appear to have the personal baggage of a Gingrich, but his outside-the-mainstream policies will prove a difficult sell.
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The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.