Rather than invest millions of dollars in a Florida campaign, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul has focused on states farther down the Republican presidential calendar. So his fourth-place finish in Tuesday’s Sunshine State primary was probably no surprise.
Paul has made no secret of his strategy to prioritize collecting delegates in the smaller caucus states that award delegates based on a proportional system. As Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich held events Tuesday in Florida, Paul spent the day in Colorado and Nevada, according to his campaign. Today, he is celebrating his 55th anniversary with his wife, Carol, in Las Vegas.
As the candidate touched down in Nevada, he told supporters at a rally that he had called Romney, the winner of the Florida primary.
"I honestly congratulated him," Paul said. "I also said I'd see him soon in the caucus states!"
(Watch the video of Paul's remarks below, courtesy of Politico.)
In a Sunday interview with CNN’s State of the Union, Paul said he believes he can break through smaller states like Maine and will continue down the “rough road of competing with establishment money.” In 2008, he finished a distant second behind Romney in the Nevada caucuses. His has maintained a presence in the state and is expected to fare better this time around.
Campaign manager Jesse Benton maintains that Paul’s “goal is to win the nomination and the presidency.” To do so, Benton told The Texas Tribune, they need to “do well” in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Alaska, North Dakota, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Washington state.
As The Washington Post shows, delegates in those caucus states are awarded proportionally, are directly elected to represent candidates at the convention, remain unpledged through the August nomination event or are "hybrid" proportional.
When asked whether Paul could win any of those states or to expand on what it means to "do well," Benton wrote in an email, "Those states all love Liberty. We’ll be a top finisher in all of those state caucuses and have a great chance to win delegation through the convention process."
The Paul campaign does not think it's worth the millions of dollars it takes to compete in a state like Florida, where the winner gets all of the state's delegates, Benton said. In his Sunday interview with CNN, Paul told anchor Candy Crowley that he didn't have the money to run such a campaign against Romney in Florida.
Benton did not respond to the Tribune’s question of why Texas was left off the list of priority states.
Paul hasn’t notched a victory in the first four elections of the primary season, but he has the funds and the rabid support of enough voters to stay on the campaign trail.
Political experts say that even if he doesn’t win the nomination, Paul’s ability to pick up delegates could help him influence the Republican platform at the August convention in Tampa Bay, Fla. In other words: For Paul, delegates are a form of currency in the political convention market.
“It’s tricky, but the more delegates he has, the greater claim he can make that he should have some involvement and a prime-time speaking role,” said Mark Jones, the chairman of the Department of Political Science at Rice University. "If the Republican Party says no to that, they run the risk of him running as a third-party candidate.”
In recent days, with the media focused on Florida, Paul’s campaign has worked furiously to draw attention, with announcements of his visits, endorsements and ad campaigns in states like Minnesota and Maine.
Conducting ground campaigns run by committed voters is essential in Nevada because the state will elect delegates on Feb. 4 who will attend the national convention. Most states pick their delegates during state conventions.
“The art of Ron Paul’s game is he gets people enmeshed in that process such that his people will be well-represented in the state conventions,” Jones said.
Though it’s unlikely Paul would be a kingmaker or cause a brokered GOP convention, he wields enormous influence among independent voters who agree with his anti-interventionist, anti-Federal Reserve policies. Many of his supporters say they would be unwilling to support another Republican candidate. And Paul has refused to offer an absolute answer as to whether he would run for president on a third-party ticket.
“I think he’s going to use the threat of being a spoiler to make sure the Republican Party doesn’t marginalize him,” Jones said. “If the GOP doesn’t respect and disavows him, the Libertarians would welcome him with open arms. And if he’s the Libertarian candidate, President Barack Obama is [likely] re-elected.”
But other factors at play could still disrupt Paul’s momentum among independent voters. The Washington Post reported last week that Paul signed off on racially insensitive and homophobic newsletters in the 1990s. Paul recently appeared on CNN's John King USA to deny the claims made by a former secretary.
Asked about those reports, Benton told the Tribune, “No, it is not true and has no effect on our strategy.”