Benefit or bane: Paul’s Democratic, independent coalition

Christopher Bedford Senior Editor, The Daily Caller
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Democrats and independents showed up in large numbers for Tuesday’s Republican Iowa caucuses — a 179 percent increase from 2008 — with nearly half of independents throwing their support behind Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who came in third place. (RELATED: Romney wins Iowa caucuses, Santorum places close second)

Paul, a libertarian Republican, has garnered large amounts of support from disaffected leftists attracted to his radical anti-war, pro-drug legalization stances.

“I just think that radical problems call for radical solutions,” Alex Hammer, a Democrat, 2012 Paul supporter and 2008 Dennis Kucinich supporter told the Washington Examiner.

Following a contentious Conservative Political Action Conference nearly one year ago, some accused Paul of actively allowing leftists to infiltrate conservative ranks, a charge partially substantiated in a recent Los Angeles Times story. Paul’s campaign, the LA Times reported, “is distributing information sheets advising Iowans that they can register Republican ‘for a day’ on caucus night, then switch registration back afterward if they want.”

“‘It’s easy. You can register on your way in the door,’ David Fischer, co-chairman of Paul’s Iowa organization, told voters” on Dec. 29 — just days before the caucuses.

Entrance polls from the Tuesday night caucuses indicate that 25 percent of participants were either independents or Democrats, able to take advantage of an Iowa state law allowing day-of, on-site registration for participants in the Republican contest. In 2008, when Democrats held their own caucuses on the same night as the GOP, 14 percent of voters in the Republican caucuses were independents or Democrats. (RELATED: Possibility of Democratic sabotage looms over Iowa caucuses)

Of the independents, 44 percent came out for Paul, while 18 percent supported “Romney, who was the next-closest,” the Washington Examiner reported.

Both Ron Paul and his son, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, have cited Paul’s popularity among Democrats and independents as evidence of his electability in a national contest against President Barack Obama — an electability consistently questioned by dubious Republicans. One poll by Democrat-affiliated Public Policy Polling had Paul at 39 percent and Romney at 12 percent in a poll of Democrats and independents.

“When I began looking into Paul, one of the things that just jumped right out is the leftist nature of his foreign policy, and this had to attract liberals,” Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to the conservative American Spectator and a former aide to GOP figureheads Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, told The Daily Caller. “When you look at the vote that he got and the following that he had, a considerable — or at least a healthy — chunk of it are young people who want drugs legalized, they’re isolationist or “non-interventionist.”

“This,” Lord continued, “is not the Republican conservative base. Paul’s trying to fuse these two things together and they’re not fusible.”

Brian Doherty, senior editor of libertarian magazine Reason, on the other hand, told TheDC that the benefits of this strategy have not yet been fully realized.

“I think the numbers clearly show that Paul is the GOP candidate in the best position to pick up Democratic and independent voters in the general election,” Doherty emailed from the ground in Iowa, saying that he has “heard enough” reports from Paul phone bankers that he is “confident Paul’s boost in an Obama-Paul match-up from non-GOP voters will be bigger than people now think.”

“Whether this will help sway [traditionally] GOP voters in Paul’s direction — not sure,” he continued, writing that, “sometimes it seems Republicans’ dedication to a bellicose foreign policy overwhelms strategy about beating Obama.”

Though results will not be declared official for some time, the final count — which the Santorum and Romney campaigns have agreed to — was 30,015 for Romney, 30,007 for Santorum and 26,219 for Paul.

“This will likely represent [Paul’s] high water mark,” Trey Grayson, director of the Harvard University Institute of Politics, told The Daily Caller. “He will continue to pull 15-20% but can’t get above that.”

Doherty was more optimistic, telling TheDC that, “Paul is the only candidate out of [the Iowa caucuses] showing growth in his fans. Romney did what he did last time. The evangelical vote just shifted candidates. Paul and Paulism doubled its appeal. The GOP,” he cautioned,” should think about that.”

Lord disagreed with Doherty’s reading of the results. “Every other candidate on the Republican side was, to some variation, a Reagan conservative in terms of ‘Peace Through Strength,’” he told TheDC. “[Former Sen.] Rick Santorum and Romney, when you combine their votes, were more than twice as much as Paul, and when you combine the rest of the strong defense candidates, Paul got clobbered.”

The results of the caucuses, Lord wrote in an American Spectator blog post on Wednesday morning, “clearly means that no matter how Congressman Paul … spins the results, his ideas have taken a thorough beating. His candidacy and his controversial foreign policy views have effectively been sent packing.”

And Paul’s foreign policy “isn’t going to sell in New Hampshire, and it certainly isn’t going to sell in South Carolina — a place that thinks John McCain is a dove,” Lord told TheDC. “There’s no way in the world that Paul is going to get a state like that. It just isn’t going to work.”

Paul, Lord concluded, “might have had better success against Obama in a Democratic primary.”

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