WASHINGTON — Rep. Ron Paul has a sure-fire strategy to shrink the wide double-digit lead that Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hold over him in Republican presidential polls.
"The first thing I would do, I would look for another poll, and you can find them, too," Paul said Wednesday with a twinkle in his eye. (Actually, you can't.)
Paul, R-Texas, is running for president for the third time since 1988. His libertarian views, free-market ideology, advocacy for smaller government and a reduced U.S. military footprint around the world have attracted fiercely loyal supporters, large crowds to events and impressive cash into his campaign coffers.
So far he's raised more than $4.5 million, considerably less than Perry and Romney but more than Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa .
"The numbers of people being involved, the ease of which we can raise money, I am so excited obviously because the next generation is catching on, they know what they're getting," Paul said. "They know what they're getting; they haven't been overly burdened with false illusions and false economic policies."
Despite the money and fervent support — especially among young voters — Paul hasn't been able to crack the top tier of the Republican presidential field, and many political experts doubt he ever will.
He placed fourth in a recent McClatchy/Marist Poll with the support of 7 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters. Perry was first with 30 percent, Romney second with 22 percent and Bachmann third with 12 percent.
"Ron Paul has deep but narrow support," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "In an eight-candidate field that gives him some prominence. But when the field narrows to two or three, he would need to at least triple that support. It is difficult to see how the majority of supporters from the other candidates would go to Ron Paul. It didn't happen in 2008."
Paul was asked about his chances Wednesday during a breakfast meeting with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. He didn't handicap his prospects for winning the GOP nomination, but he did stress the importance of doing well in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary early next year.
"The big question is, will this momentum continue fast enough to make sure we do very well in January, and let me tell you, the supporters believe it's possible," Paul said. "I don't know. All I know is the successes of this message and freedom movement are way beyond my expectations."
Whether he can do it or not, Paul believes there's a chance for a Republican candidate to topple Romney or Perry because the GOP field remains unsettled.
"I think the political events going on are very much like the economy, very much in flux," he said. "There is no one person. It's very much in flux, so I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see other people come in."
Paul rejected the idea of running as a third-party candidate if he doesn't do well in Iowa or New Hampshire.
"It would be a strong negative politically," he said. "If I were in a third party ... you might not have me here. I certainly wouldn't be in the debates."
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