Ron Paul Keeps On Truckin', But to What End?

Ron Paul Keeps On Truckin', But to What End?

By Scott Conroy - March 22, 2012

About halfway through his second quest for the Republican presidential nomination, Ron Paul has yet to win a single primary or caucus state.

Whenever this inconvenient truth is mentioned to his campaign aides, their first point of rebuttal typically is that the Texas congressman won the popular vote in the U.S. Virgin Islands earlier this month.

He did so by netting 112 votes in the presidential straw poll there, enough to best Mitt Romney’s haul of 101 islanders, although Romney still gained seven out of the territory’s nine delegates, making it something less than an impactful victory by just about any standard.

That Paul’s campaign is left to tout a triumph of such dubious distinction leads to inevitable questions about why the 76-year-old lawmaker continues a quest that has gone from unlikely to virtually hopeless.

While he has long paid lip service to the idea that he might actually win, Paul has for months acknowledged the long odds he faces.

His team maintains that there is still hope for emerging from a contested convention as the Republican nominee, but even the most ardent Paul partisans now suggest that he is motivated by something other than the chance to become president.

“We’re not going to publicly announce that the goal is not to win the nomination, of course not,” said senior Paul strategist Doug Wead. “But there are many reasons to be in this campaign, and one of those is that we’re reshaping the Republican Party. It’s the biggest change in the Republican Party since evangelicals uprooted it in 1988.”

The Paul campaign says it expects to win a much larger than anticipated share of delegates at the district and county conventions that are integral to selecting the individuals who will head to the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Paul officials also say that many delegates now bound to other candidates on the first ballot will move to their camp on subsequent ballots -- in the event of a contested convention.

Wead said media tallies putting the congressman’s delegate total at somewhere between the low 40s and high 60s are “dramatically different” from the campaign’s own count, though he and other campaign officials declined to provide specific numbers to support their claim.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday to make the case for Rick Santorum’s viability, officials from that campaign backed up the Paul team’s assertion -- but also provided no documentation to support it.

According to party rules adopted in 2008, in order for a candidate to be brought up for a nomination vote in Tampa, a plurality of delegates from at least five states must declare their support for him.

Despite Paul’s anemic performances in voting contests to date, his officials say they expect to meet that threshold -- while also admitting that doing so isn’t a foregone conclusion.

“The media may, in its ignorance, turn out to be right because if Romney gets close, you’re going to see pressure on those states to reconfigure their delegations and make them Romney delegations to Tampa,” Wead said. “So that’s our nightmare, and it’s possible that can happen, but at least right now we’ve got a whole lot more than the 50 or 60 [delegates].”

While there have been calls from prominent conservatives for Santorum and Newt Gingrich to exit the race and make way for Romney as the likely nominee, that has not been the case for Paul, in part because he has been seen as a quasi-Romney ally -- due to his eagerness to fiercely attack the front-runner’s rivals over the airwaves and in debates.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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