The Ron Paul effect: Texas congressman could spoil the GOP’s party

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Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul is steadily gaining momentum just three weeks before the Iowa caucuses, and the latest Des Moines Register poll has him in second place with 18 percent support.

While the Republican primary field seems to have narrowed to a race between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Paul is holding steady with enough support to suggest an eventual independent candidacy run.

That potential spoiler role has Paul’s staffers talking tough, and other conservatives’ tongues wagging.

Paul has already run for president as a third-party candidate once, in the 1988 presidential election. Fox News analyst Juan Williams wrote in November that an independent Paul candidacy “could be the biggest, most consequential third-party candidacy in American history. Yes, one that is even bigger than Ross Perot’s candidacy was in the ’90s.”

Paul senior policy adviser Bruce Fein told The Daily Caller why.

“Ron’s numbers have steadily grown, and they don’t fluctuate like the others,” he said. “Gingrich has staggering personal deficiencies. When scrutiny comes to Newt, he’ll make even Romney look like the Rock of Gibraltar on consistency.”

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that Paul would win 18 percent of the vote as a third-party candidate if he ran against Obama and Romney. (RELATED: Full coverage of Ron Paul)

“If Paul were to support the effort, even as a write-in, even in some states, he could turn the election,” John Fortier, director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told TheDC. “Republicans could be worried about the Ron Paul candidacy because he could take four to five percent, or more. I think he could be consequential.”

Fortier, however, dismisses thoughts of a meaningful write-in campaign for Paul if he doesn’t encourage it after the Republican convention in Tampa. “If he’s really not behind the effort, and people are on their own drafting him in, the numbers will be lower,” he said.

The Paul campaign has been hesitant to speculate about the possibility of running outside the GOP party apparatus.

“That will be answered later on. In any circumstance, the political environment will change,” Fein predicted. “Many people are thinking that because the selection of delegates has moved to proportional representation, the likelihood is much greater that no one will have a majority at the convention.”

In a brokered convention, Fein added, Ron Paul “could end up being vice president. He might end up very important like Mondale was to Carter.”

Paul’s campaign success to date has been largely a grassroots effort. The long-serving congressman has seen a steady rise in donations and has a broad base of dedicated — some say rabidly dedicated — supporters. His non-interventionist foreign policy views, opposition to the war in Iraq, and belief in limited government attracts a wide array of voters, including Republicans who view Gingrich as damaged goods with too much baggage, and Mitt Romney as a centrist flip-flopper.

Paul also polls well with independent voters who feel disenfranchised by both major parties, and even with some Democrats.

Noel Fritsch, a real estate investor and Ron Paul supporter in Washington, D.C., believes Paul supporters of all stripes are committed to sending a message to the GOP. “People want freedom, they want liberty, and they want government out of their lives,” Fritsch explained.

“Liberty minded supporters are more concerned with sending a message to the establishment and to the GOP. … Another establishment-supported GOP candidate won’t be much better than Obama.”

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