Ron Paul left behind more than a few peeling campaign stickers in Iowa when his 2008 presidential campaign closed. He left a small but loyal cadre of supporters, who are prodding the candidate to increase his presence in the state this time around.
Paul’s scheduled opening Tuesday of an exploratory campaign office in Iowa marks a far earlier start in the caucus state than the Texas congressman made in the 2008 campaign cycle. In his last presidential run, Paul didn’t open an Iowa headquarters until August 2007 – just a few days before the state Republican Party’s straw poll. He attributes the earlier move toward the formal trappings of a campaign to one thing: his supporters.
“I think it’s because of the pressure I’m getting from some enthusiastic supporters who want to get moving,” Paul said in a telephone interview on Monday. “I haven’t even had the final, official announcement and they said, well, the exploratory committee has to have an office too, you know.”
A.J. Spiker of Ames, a supporter of Paul’s and a member of the Iowa Republican State Central Committee, said it’s “definitely happening” that supporters are pushing Paul to move earlier. “Ron Paul is bringing in money much earlier than he did in 2008,” Spiker said. “In 2008, the money didn’t start to flow until it was real late in the campaign.”
Paul came in fifth in the Iowa GOP straw poll and also placed fifth in the January 2008 caucuses. But he didn’t really ramp up a campaign presence in Iowa until early fall, which was far too late. I thought at the time that he could have improved his standing in Iowa had he spent more time here and built a stronger organization aimed at turning out supporters on caucus night.
Paul doesn’t disagree with that assessment. “Maybe those supporters out there share that and that’s why they’re pressuring me into doing more,” he said. Paul has a lot more going for him than he did in 2008.
In a CNN poll last week, he came the closest of any GOP candidate in a hypothetical matchup against President Barack Obama, trailing by 7 percentage points. His call to limit the federal government to a strict reading of the Constitution is widely credited with launching the tea party movement. His message on the deficit and debt has widespread support among mainstream Republicans. And his non-interventionist foreign policy attracts some progressives who are unhappy with Obama’s ramping up of troop levels in Afghanistan.
Here in Iowa, the Campaign for Liberty has maintained a presence for Paul supporters since 2008. Spiker is one of three members who also serve on the state central committee.
Some mainstream Republican leaders credit the almost cult-like adoration of his supporters but say his libertarian social views will prevent him from expanding his base here. Legalizing drugs, for example, is not a popular view among Iowa conservatives. They may be right – unless Paul succeeds in building the sort of campaign that can bring new people into the caucus process.
Paul’s appeal to young voters, disaffected Democrats and caucus virgins could help him claim a coveted spot in the top three caucus finishers. But turning out those usually marginal supporters requires serious organizational muscle. His supporters are right to push Paul for an earlier and more robust campaign commitment.
But the fact that they are having to prod Paul is worrisome. He describes himself as a “reluctant” candidate who’s generally taken a laissez-faire view of campaign organization. His supporters can give him a good start, but he’ll need to bring the fire in the belly and hands-on leadership necessary to finish the job.
Kathie Obradovich is a political columnist for the Des Moines Register. The Des Moines Register and POLITICO are sharing content for the 2012 presidential campaign cycle.