At this weekend’s Values Voter Summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, and other like-minded organizations, you’d expect a strong social conservative – say, Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum – to do well in a mock election among Republican presidential hopefuls.
But, no, it was libertarian Ron Paul who won the day, taking a relative whopping 37 percent of the vote – way ahead of Bachmann (8 percent) and Santorum (16 percent), even besting current conservative favorite Herman Cain (23 percent).
Ron Paul? The man who says the federal government has no authority to regulate recreational drugs, prostitution, and same-sex marriage? Who says he would not have ordered the killing of al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki?
This kind of thing has happened before at special interest gatherings. For two years in a row now, Paul has won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll under similar circumstances.
There’s no doubt that Paul supporters are –“stuffing the ballot box” isn’t the right phrase – showing up at such gatherings in a way to give their man a good showing. Nothing wrong with that.
Tony Perkins, who heads the Family Research Council, points out that some 600 people registered Saturday morning (not for the full weekend, and many of them students who paid the lowest entry fee) voted for Paul, then left after he spoke.
Of the 3,400 people who attended, 1,983 voted. “You do the math,” Perkins told reporters.
Still, although Paul may carry a strong libertarian message with tea party crossovers, he does not do particularly well in state and national polls asking who the GOP should pick as their champion to challenge Barack Obama.
In the most recent Gallup poll, taken in mid-September, he came in third (with 13 percent) behind Mitt Romney (24 percent) and Rick Perry (31 percent). In a more recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, Paul gets 11 percent among the general population and 9 percent among registered voters (figures that have held steady for months).
Surprisingly, given his enthusiastic fan base, Paul scores pretty low on Gallup’s “positive intensity score” as well. (That’s the percentage of strongly favorable opinions minus the percentage of strongly unfavorable opinions.) While he once scored a high of 16, he’s now down to a low of 3 compared with 13 for Romney and 30 for Cain.
“His message is still not resonating with voters,” blogs Jason Volack, who covers Paul for ABC News. “In the latest ABC News poll, only 8 percent of likely Republican voters mentioned Paul’s name as the one best to handle the economy. Rick Perry and Mitt Romney each topped the poll with 22 percent. In fact, in all of ABC News’ polls, there are no issues that Paul can claim as his own.”
So how to explain Paul’s good showing at the Values Voter Summit this weekend?
Well, there were those young Paul supporters who showed up by the busload to vote for him and cheer his speech.
But that speech no doubt resonated with many social conservatives there as well, especially those lukewarm about Romney and Perry but not necessarily dazzled by Cain.
Paul sounded a biblical theme throughout – from Samuel and Isaiah in the Old Testament to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from his pro-life stance on abortion as an obstetrician who’s delivered 4,000 babies to how “in the early church, they talk about being very careful about going into war.”
“We are taught in the New Testament about caring for the poor and caring for our families and our neighbors and friends. But never did Christ say, you know, let’s go and lobby Rome to make sure we’re taken care of. It was a personal responsibility for us,” he said. “Christ was confronted at one time by a prostitute, but he didn’t call for the centurions. He didn’t call for more laws. But he was very direct and thought that stoning was not the solution to the problem of prostitution.”
It was a smoothly-constructed combination of Christianity and libertarianism (an interesting contrast to the social gospel and liberation theology), and for many in this audience it worked.
In last year’s Values Voter Summit straw poll, Ron Paul came in next to last. This year, it seems, his combination of organized supporters and a strong biblical theme worked well.