When it comes to enthusiasm in the Republican primary season, there’s little doubt that Ron Paul’s backers are generally seen as some of the most passionate about their candidate.
You may or may not agree with what he says – and on U.S. foreign policy, Ron Paul is considered outside the Republican mainstream for his views on Iran and Israel in particular (Paul essentially believes Israel should be left to fend for itself in the Middle East). But he certainly brings a different perspective to the political debate.
And that’s exactly the point of his candidacy, according to one New Hampshirite I spoke with who is also an organizer with the Free State Project – a libertarian movement that aims to “establish residence in a small state and take over the state government.”
“It’s surreal being a Ron Paul supporter,” he told me. “You don’t expect him to win, but that’s not the point.” So what is the point? To educate people about the libertarian perspective. The Free State Project is based around the concept of 20,000 libertarians upping sticks and moving to New Hampshire to help get like-minded candidates elected. And, although it isn’t officially affiliated with any particular campaign, the organizer told me that virtually everyone tied to the project in New Hampshire is a Ron Paul supporter. “Ron Paul is about 90 percent right on the issues,” he told me (although he was quick to add that making such collective assumptions obviously runs a little against the individualism espoused by the project).
One of the big questions tonight is who will place second, and how strong a showing they have. Even with the much talked about surge that former Utah Gov. John Huntsman has shown since the weekend, the assumption is that Romney will still win. The question is by how much. If either Huntsman or Paul can get within, say, 10 points of Romney, this would further stoke talk about an opening for an anyone but Romney candidate, and would certainly make South Carolina and Florida – states where Romney’s support has been less certain – more interesting. But if Romney passes 40 percent, easily besting the 31.5 percent he scored in 2008, then he may well get his wish of a short race.
Either way, Paul has vowed to stick around regardless of how things go. Why? The organizer I spoke with said it’s all about getting the message out. With that in mind, he said Free State has spent little time at Paul events because “it’s like preaching to the choir.”
Instead, he said they’ve been attending other candidates’ rallies to try to drum up support for the libertarian platform. And he said that generally speaking, crowds in New Hampshire have seemed open to some of these ideas. Except, that is, for a stop at a Gingrich campaign rally, where he claims one of Gingrich’s security staff roughed up a Free State campaigner – a particularly big sin in the eyes of a group that laments what it sees as government overreach and suppression of individual expression.
The organizer told me that he’s not expecting Paul to win, but does hope for a good showing. He says he’d be happy with about 30 percent. That’s somewhat more than the 18 percent the latest Suffolk University/7 News tracking poll has him at. But Paul’s supporters hope that with about 40 percent of New Hampshire’s supporters describing themselves as independent, that their independent-minded can spring a surprise.