Then came the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames. The number -- and volume -- of the Paul supporters turned them into the talk of the political world on that blazing hot day in August. Some reporters gathered at the event openly wondered whether Paul would shock the world by finishing in the top three of the Straw Poll. When he didn't -- he placed fifth -- the buzz (at least among media types) died down. Paul's campaign seemed all talk and no action.I know who supports Ron Paul - the idiot programmers I work with. They are totally entranced by this guy who hates everything they hate and who wants to ensure they can be even less socially responsible than they currently are. I work with a weird group of people, individually pretty nice but whose view of the world is so warped and narrow I sometimes wonder how they navigate home at night.
That all changed on Nov. 5. In commemoration of Guy Fawkes' attempted assassination of King James I, the Paul network organized a fundraising bomb -- for lack of a better word. More than $4 million was collected online in roughly 24 hours, a stunning achievement for any candidate but especially someone with Paul's seemingly long-shot odds at the nomination.
Even then, however, it was easy to write Paul off. Other fringe candidates had been able to collect several million dollars form their efforts. Paul fit somewhat easily into the model of other perennial candidates like Lyndon LaRouche.
No more. Paul collected more than $6 million in a single day earlier this week (Dec. 16 -- the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, natch). Paul campaign officials say that he will top $18 million raised between Sept. 1 and Dec 31, a total that will put him first or very close to the top of the fundraising chase.
Ron Paul pulls from a certain part of the "Independents" - people too disengaged from politics to have clear opinions, and just well off enough that they don't really connect with any strong interest group. They aren't "rich", but look in the mirror and see the next Sergiy Brin. The "Mexicans" are the source of the big problems, swiftly followed by the "gumnit" who is paying the "Mexicans" to move here and steal stuff. They pretty much all suffer from CDS. His unswerving opposition to the Iraq War has little to do with any opposition to killing strange brown people as it does with his deep rooted isolationism and xenophobia. In a weird twist, he is one of the few anti-religion candidates out there, which will also strongly appeal to a certain portion of the atheist left. Thus, he appeals to some fringe Democrats, especially single-issue voters, and has a substantial slice of the Republican pie. He does not have enough votes to win a major party nomination, but he could garner enough to force some intereting deals at the Republican convention. He can't win on his own - American as a whole is not that insane.
He is just monomaniacal enough to pull a Ross Perot and mount a third party challenge. Now, this might thrill some Democrats, who only see him pulling votes from the Republicans, but I think we need to look carefully at the way Independents may break if given a choice of Ron Paul. Dedicated Democrats wll not vote Ron Paul, wanting him to draw off Republican votes. Independents voting in the Democratic primaries, however, are not strongly attached to the party, and may very well go with Paul in the general election to register a "disgust" vote with mainstream politics.
This will not substantially hurt any conventional Democratic candidate as their support will be drawn from Dems and from moderate Republicans (a reverse Lieberman, if you will) . Clinton, Dodd, Biden and Richardson would not lose as much support from their party as Romney, Guliani, Mccain and Huckabee would lose from theirs. However, Democratic candidates who pull significantly from Independents will see proportionally more defections, especially as they will have to tack to the center for the general election. Kucinich, Edwards and especially Obama are vulnerable to a Paul third party run because they don't appeal to moderate Republicans as much and because the Independents who supported them as being "outsiders" are going to be turned off by moderation.
Paul can't beat them, but he can siphon votes away. If you have Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and Ron Paul all running in the general (and, hell, toss in Saint Ralph for good measure. The bastard says he's running.) , you have a situation similar to Bush I, Big Dog and Perot in 1992, except that Paul's demographic overlaps Obama's even more than it does Romney's. Add a little Nader magic to pull away the mindless moralists on the left, toss in six months of Republican race and religion bashing, a big heap of war equivocation, and you've got a razor thin Democratic loss.
Ron Paul is a bigger and more dangerous challenge to the major parties than is realized because of who he appeals to. He could pull away a big chunk of the Independents the Dems will need for the general election.