Ron Paul won another Republican straw poll this weekend, in Illinois this time.
It’s starting to become routine for Mr. Paul, points out The State Column, an online source of state political news:
“Paul has consistently demonstrated his ability to rally his supporters to straw polls throughout the nation. Paul took second place in the Ames Straw Poll in August, finishing just 1 percentage point behind Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Paul won a Values Voter Summit straw poll in October and a California Republican Party straw poll in September. On Saturday, October 22, Paul garnered 53 percent of the votes to win an Ohio GOP poll. Last weekend, Paul won an Iowa straw poll at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies in Des Moines, Iowa with 82 percent of the votes.”
In Illinois Saturday, Paul won 52 percent of the vote – more than neck-and-neck front-runners Mitt Romney and Herman Cain.
How does Paul do it – winning state after state in these kinds of contests – while generally being relegated to second-tier or “also ran” status by most pundits and pollsters?
Pundits have a hard time categorizing Paul, the Texas congressman who’s as much (maybe more) libertarian as he is Republican.
As was pointed out in this space last month, try to imagine a Republican presidential candidate these days who would not support a constitutional ban on abortion, who would cut defense spending by nearly a billion dollars, or who would end all US aid to Israel. Hard, isn’t it?
Paul has said he will not run for reelection to his congressional seat next year, raising questions about the possibility of running for president as an independent or third-party candidate.
On “Fox News Sunday,” he ruled that out. But confirming his status as something of a GOP outlier, he also said he wouldn’t necessarily support the Republican presidential candidate once the primaries and caucuses are over.
“If they believe in expanding the wars, if they don’t believe in looking at the Federal Reserve, if they don’t believe in real cuts, if they don’t believe in deregulation and a better tax system, it would defy everything I believe in,” he told Chris Wallace. “And so therefore I would be reluctant to jump on board and tell all of the supporters that have given me trust and money … ‘All we have done is for naught and let’s support anybody at all … even if they disagree with everything we do.’ ”
But back to all those straw polls that Paul keeps winning or at least doing well in.
They’re typically not scientific, and they can’t be compared with nationwide polls.
In the most recent ABC News/Washington Post, Rasmussen Reports, and Quinnipiac polls, Paul remains in single digits behind Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry among those likely to vote in the Republican primaries or caucuses. And like Michele Bachmann, he’s dropped several percentage points since October, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.
But Paul continues to do well in the straw polls because of the way they’re designed and because it’s easier for his enthusiastic and very loyal supporters to take part.
At the Values Voter Summit last month, young Paul supporters showed up by the busload to vote for him in that straw poll. The result? He won 37 percent of the vote, much more than Herman Cain (23 percent).
In Illinois over the weekend, Paul’s 52 percent win over his GOP rivals comes with interesting caveats.
Voters in the straw poll (who had to contribute $5 to the Illinois Republican Party for the privilege) could participate either in person or online.
Paul won 66.5 percent of the votes cast over the Internet but just 8 percent of those cast in person (the way actual elections happen), suggesting a heavy online turnout by his supporters. Mr. Romney, on the other hand, took 35 percent of the in-person vote, and Cain won 29 percent of that vote.
Paul supporters continue to claim media bias against their man.
“If the advocates of Ron Paul often seem like they're paranoid about the way he's overlooked in the mainstream media, there's good reason for it,” columnist Paul Mulshine writes in the Star Ledger in New Jersey.
As evidence, he points to a Sunday New York Times Magazine piece by political analyst Nate Silver headlined “What Are the Chances for Republicans?” Silver’s piece virtually ignores Ron Paul.
“The candidate who has been running third in many polls is conspicuously absent from the article,” writes Mr. Mulshine, who also notes that in the Real Clear Politics polling average only Romney does better than Paul in mock head-to-head elections against Barack Obama.