By all accounts, Ron Paul was a reluctant presidential candidate. He was happy in the House, casting his lonely “no” votes against legislation with price tags large and small and contrasting his colleagues’ handiwork with the plain text of the Constitution. But the Revolution overtook him: Paul attracted larger crowds than he had dreamed possible and, after raising $19.5 million in the last three months of 2007, won the fourth-quarter Republican money primary.
The purpose of Paul’s longshot presidential bid was simple: Win as many delegates to the Republican National Convention as possible and spawn legions of new “Ron Paul Republicans.” So Paul’s supporters were startled — and in some cases miffed — when Paul announced he was scaling back his presidential campaign to focus on his March 4 congressional primary.
Sure, Paul had a disappointing showing in New Hampshire, where he had been expected to do well. Aside from a few caucus states, mostly in the Western part of the country, he was increasingly turning in single-digit performances as the field winnowed. But the crowds were still big and young; the money was still rolling in. Why not continue spreading the message and recruiting new Ron Paul Republicans?
BASED ON THE tone of the fundraising appeals, the answer is obvious: Paul seems worried that after his congressional primary, the number of Ron Paul Republicans in Congress will be reduced to zero. “The DC neocons think their old dream is about to come true,” Paul began one such missive. “They think they can defeat me in the Republican congressional primary in Texas on March 4th. And you know what? They may be right.”
Fundraising letters usually rely on the “going out of business sale” approach rather than the soft sell, but Paul may genuinely be in trouble. Though Paul trounced a more conventional Republican, Cynthia Sinatra, in the 2006 primary — he took 64 percent of the vote and beat Sinatra in every county in his district — Friendswood City Councilman Chris Peden might give Dr. No a run for his money.
Roger L. Simon claimed in Pajamas Media that Paul is now trailing Peden in internal polls taken by both campaigns. Simon says Peden leads by 43 percent to 32 percent, a double-digit margin that ought to worry any incumbent.
Not true, counters Paul’s congressional campaign manager Mark Elam. In comments reproduced on several blogs, Elam argued “Peden is NOT leading Dr. Paul in this race” and “most voters still don’t even know who Peden is.” He claims to have overseen four surveys in Texas’s 14th congressional district, all showing Paul with better than 60 percent of the vote and Peden at 18 to 20 percent.
Only time will tell who is right, but Paul isn’t acting like an incumbent who is taking his congressional primary for granted. If Peden pulls off an upset, the result will be widely interpreted as a repudiation of antiwar Republicans, much like Congressman Wayne Gilchrest’s defeat in the Maryland GOP primary on Feb. 12. That will certainly be part of the story, as Paul’s foreign-policy views play a prominent role in Peden’s campaign and drew the challenger into the race in the first place.
Yet Paul may be vulnerable for a different reason: The district isn’t that far from NASA’s headquarters and many of the space program’s employees are among his constituents. Paul has opposed firing taxpayer dollars into space on constitutional grounds. Peden promises to vote for “fully funding NASA’s budget and the Vision for Space Exploration.” A third candidate in the primary race, Andy Mann, is a NASA contractor.
Also, as Bob Dornan learned and Dennis Kucinich may soon discover, the folks at home sometimes get testy when their congressman launches a quixotic presidential campaign. Some may vote for Peden to send the incumbent an isolationist message: Come home, Ron Paul.
PAUL HAS FACED long odds before, such as when the entire state GOP establishment opposed his return to Congress in 1996. He beat Democrat-turned-Republican Congressman Greg Laughlin in the primary anyway, with few big-name supporters beyond ace pitcher Nolan Ryan and flat-taxer (and fellow gold bug) Steve Forbes. And though his recent string of primary performances might make people forget, Paul has been elected to Congress ten times — three of them as a non-incumbent. Not a bad record, especially for a nontraditional politician.
It is nevertheless jarring to see Paul go so quickly from a presidential candidate whose campaign was giving likely GOP nominee John McCain the willies to a congressional incumbent looking over his shoulder at a little-known local pol. Is a revolutionary without honor in his own House district?