Why Ron Paul could rally in February caucuses

Ron Paul has been looking forward to February, when caucus states take center stage on the GOP nominating calendar. Caucuses reward loyalty and Mr. Paul has fervently devoted followers.

Julie Jacobson/AP
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas signs autographs for supporters after speaking at a rally Tuesday in Las Vegas.

On Tuesday night, when Mitt Romney won the Florida primary, and Ron Paul finished fourth, Mr. Paul wasn't even in the Sunshine State. Instead, he was addressing supporters in Nevada, which holds its caucuses Saturday. He hadn't even campaigned in Florida at all.

Paul told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night that he called Mr. Romney to congratulate him, and that he'd "see him soon in the caucus states."

"We will spend our time in the caucus states because if you have an irate, tireless minority, you do very well in the caucus states," he added.

For Paul then, the February GOP nominating calendar looks good.

In addition to Nevada, Maine holds its caucuses for a week (starting Saturday) and then Colorado and Minnesota holds theirs on Tuesday. The next traditional, winner-take-all primary isn't until Arizona's on Feb. 28.

And Paul, unlike Newt Gingrich, is poised to do well and potentially take home a large share of the delegates at stake.

So why is Ron Paul so caucus-friendly?

For one thing, caucuses reward loyalty. They're more time-consuming (and typically take place at a certain time of day) and have lower turnout than primary elections, and candidates – like Paul – who have fervently devoted followers tend to do a better job at getting their voters to show up.

For the same reason, organization is important – and Paul has been campaigning in Nevada since last fall. His supporters have been pulling for him longer than that.

"The ground game and the grass-roots activity never stopped" since 2008, Carl Bunce, Paul's Nevada chairman, told the Wall Street Journal.

Paul is essentially the only candidate who's put time into Maine and Colorado (he visited both states in the past week, while his rivals were racing around Florida), and is hoping for a significant share of their 60 delegates as a result. He even got the endorsement of L.L. Bean heiress Linda Lorraine Bean.

It's a very different strategy than the other GOP candidates have pursued, but for Paul, it's one that makes sense.

Florida was expensive and a winner-take-all state, so Paul opted to skip it completely and build up support and momentum in states where he can actually amass delegates. Many pundits are predicting that, by the end of February, he'll be just behind Romney in overall delegate count.

Indeed, Romney will remain his biggest rival in the upcoming contests. In Nevada in 2008, Romney won with 51 percent of the vote (a particularly large number considering there were still seven candidates). Paul came in second with 14 percent, even with much less money and momentum that time around.

Nevada is the first state to vote with a sizable Mormon population, and is a state where Romney also has strong organization.

At this point, Romney is still the favorite son in Nevada (no recent polling has been done in the state), but Paul could easily outperform expectations or even eke out a win. And while it's hard to see a path to the nomination for Paul, this month affords some of his best opportunity to pick up delegates – and hence have a greater voice in the party and at the convention this summer in Tampa.

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