Mr. Paul did OK on the night, don’t get us wrong. In particular he performed strongly in Minnesota, where he finished second with 27 percent of the vote. He was the choice of about 13,000 Minnesota caucus attendees – an increase of some 3,000 over his support from four years ago. He beat front-runner Mitt Romney and expanded his demographic base of support. That was enough for the Washington Post’s The Fix political blog to name him a winner.
“For a guy who had taken a step back in the last few contests, including finishing a disappointing third in Nevada – a state he really focused on – this was a good night,” wrote The Fix’s Aaron Blake.
Paul also received good news from a new national poll. A Reuters/Ipsos survey released Feb. 8 puts him in second place in the GOP race, with 21 percent of potential Republican voters. Mr. Romney leads the poll with a 29 percent result.
But on Tuesday Paul finished fourth (last) in Colorado, another caucus state, with only 11.8 percent of the vote. That’s a worse showing than he managed there in 2008. He finished third (also last) in Missouri’s beauty-contest primary. (Newt Gingrich wasn’t on the Missouri ballot.)
Given these mixed results, the issue for Paul now is the validity of his caucus-centric campaign strategy.
Paul has long said he’s focused on caucus states because they provide more opportunity for his well-organized supporters to out-hustle the opposition. It’s cheaper to compete in caucuses than in primaries, and the rest of the field hasn’t focused on them much (with the exception of Iowa) because often there aren’t that many delegates at stake.
For Paul, the moment of truth here may be the upcoming February 11 announcement of the results of the Maine caucuses. He’s campaigned in Maine more than his rivals, and his libertarian ideals sell fairly well in the self-reliant Pine Tree State. On Tuesday night Paul himself predicted that he’d do “very well” in Maine.
The Maine results will reflect a nonbinding straw poll of caucus delegates. But the caucuses also pick delegates to the state GOP convention, and thus the straw poll should be a rough estimate of how many of Maine’s 24 delegates Paul will actually win.
Right now Paul trails in the delegate count. According to the Associated Press, following the Feb. 7 contests, Romney leads with 107 delegates. Rick Santorum has 45, Mr. Gingrich has 32, and Paul has nine. Nomination requires at least 1,144 delegates.