Paul's passionate proponents

Andrew Cline:

For several hours last Sunday, more than a dozen Ron Paul volunteers stood in snowdrifts in the rain outside the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester waving at last-minute Christmas shoppers and handing out hundreds of yards signs.

The campaign doesn't know how many people participated because, as with so many Paul rallies, this one was organized entirely by fans not officially associated with the campaign.

"We told them to take Christmas Eve and Christmas off, and next thing we know they're doing a sign wave at the mall," said Jim Forsythe, a self-employed engineer and former Air Force pilot from Strafford, N.H., who independently organizes volunteer efforts for Ron Paul.

That spontaneous grassroots support is why Mr. Paul, an obstetrician from Lake Jackson, Texas, could pull off a stunner on Jan. 8 and place third in New Hampshire's Republican primary. If he does, he would embarrass Rudy Giuliani and steal media limelight from John McCain and Mitt Romney, who are battling for first place.

Many Republican operatives in New Hampshire, even those affiliated with other campaigns, think Mr. Paul is headed for an impressive, double-digit performance. That he has been polling in the high single digits for months is discounted, because the polls may be missing the depth of his support.

Why? For starters, he appears to be drawing new voters. Polls that screen for "likely" voters might screen out many Paul supporters who haven't voted often, or at all, before. Many of Mr. Paul's supporters appear to be first-time voters. They will be able to cast their ballots because New Hampshire allows them to register and vote on the day of an election.

...

Paul has a passionate group of libertarian followers who have at best a tenuous tie to the GOP. Even if he got 10 or 11 percent of the vote in New Hampshire it would not possibly lead to momentum in future contest, because most of his New Hampshire voters will not be Republicans. Something like 80 to 90 percent of Republican voters disagree with Ron Paul on the war. That is certainly not going to change now that we are obviously winning in Iraq.

Paul supporters have shown a propensity for stuffing the online polls to exaggerate his support. They may try the equivalent in New Hampshire, but it cannot mask his marginal candidacy.

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