NASHUA, N.H. -- A spray-painted banner across the highway between this town and Manchester proclaims that the “Ron Paul Revolution’’ has arrived in New Hampshire.
The Texas congressman has one of the best campaign organizations in the state and probably the most enthusiastic following, evidenced by the boisterous crowd that greeted him at an airport hangar here on Friday afternoon. One day earlier, Paul announced that he raised $13 million in the past three months—his best haul to date—making him the second-flushest candidate in the race, behind Mitt Romney.
“Ron Paul actually does not need a super PAC. He’s got the 'send' button,’’ said Republican strategist Phil Musser, who advised Tim Pawlenty’s campaign and is now supporting Romney. “He’s probably got the largest online fundraising database of any candidate other than President Obama.’’
But the so-called revolution behind the libertarian standard bearer may have peaked in his top-tier, but somewhat disappointing third-place finish in Tuesday's Iowa caucus. While his rivals immediately rode their momentum out of Iowa to New Hampshire, which votes on Tuesday, Paul took two days off from the campaign trail. Three different polls released Friday showed Rick Santorum -- who essentially tied Romney in Iowa - gaining on Paul's second-place standing in New Hampshire. Of the three polls, Paul's best numbers came the NBC News/Marist poll, which pegged his support at 22 percent, 20 percentage points behind Romney. Santorum climbed into third with a double-digit bounce over the past month, while Paul's support improved only modestly.
“I wish I could say Paul has a better shot than he does,’’ said Charles Hildreth, a 72-year-old retiree from Milford wearing an Air Force veteran baseball cap at the Paul rally. “I don’t see first or second place … I would have liked to see him here sooner after Iowa, because more time on the ground means more opportunities like this.’’
Paul’s campaign obviously sees the surging Santorum as a threat. Before he introduced his father, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul took a couple of shots at the former Pennsylvania senator, accusing him of rubber-stamping all foreign-aid packages and voting to double the size of the Education Department.
Launching a preemptive strike before Santorum’s visit to South Carolina on Sunday, Ron Paul began airing a new ad there that tars Santorum as a “corporate lobbyist and Washington politician’’ with a “record of betrayal.’’
Lashing out is nothing new for Paul, who has been airing attack ads longer than any other campaign or outside group. In fact, he spent as much money in Iowa—about $2.8 million—as a super PAC bankrolled by Romney’s allies, according to NBC/Smart Media Group Delta. Most of former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s outrage over the attacks that knocked him into fourth place in Iowa has been targeted at the super PAC, not at Paul, even though he calls the former House speaker a “serial hypocrite’’ in one television spot.
“Paul’s not going anywhere,’’ scoffed Rick Tyler, who is fundraising for a pro-Gingrich super PAC. “Newt has got to focus on his real target, which is Romney.’’
The crowd at a Ron Paul rally is completely unlike the audiences that come out for any of other Republican candidates. There are many more young people, more beards, and more earrings in unexpected places (eyebrows, lips, male ears).
Veterans like Hildreth also tend to show up, and Paul frequently points out that he has collected more money from military personnel than any other candidate. On Friday, he mocked critics who say he’s “strange’’ for wanting to bring all American troops home and investing that money domestically. “Mind your own business and take care of ourselves!’’ Paul said, drawing thunderous applause.
A distrust of the establishment—be it the “military-industrial complex,’’ as Paul calls it, or the media—is at the core of the Paul campaign. Several of the young volunteers at the event said they had been instructed not to talk to reporters. One supporter handed out notices about a “pub crawl’’ on Friday night on Paul’s behalf.
“We do request that if you choose to exercise your Second Amendment rights, it is in a concealed fashion,’’ said the flier, which did not come from the official campaign. “The press has been invited and we don’t want them to focus on open carrying, which we all know they would. We are trying to bring attention to Tuesday’s primary and let everyone know, Ron Paul is the dude!!!’’