Ron Paul Victory Could Hurt Legitimacy of Iowa Caucuses

If Paul wins, then fails to get GOP nomination, legitimacy of Iowa vote could be questioned.


When it comes to good old fashion door knocking, campaign sign posting, cold call campaigning, there are few who'd argue Ron Paul's not dominating in Iowa.

"Ron Paul has the most organization on the ground; he's been in the state ever since 2008," Tim Hagle, a professor of political science at the University of Iowa said.

And, in a state that's well known for giving back to those who devote their time to locals, Ron Paul seems to be perfectly positioned to win the Iowa caucuses.

With dwindling poll numbers, soft support, and no more debates to promote his oratory skills, Newt Gingrich isn't favored to win, Iowans still aren't sold on Mitt Romney, and evangelical voters have split their support between Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann.

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"If Gingrich continues to fade, it's very likely Paul comes out on top," says University of Northern Iowa professor Christopher Larimer.

But not everybody's so enamored with the idea. The Republican establishment in Iowa is concerned that a Paul win might be an Iowa caucus loss.

"If Paul wins and then fades really quickly afterward [in national campaigning]," Larimer says, "then you have two caucuses in a row where the Iowa winner doesn't go on to be the GOP nominee,"

In 2008, Mike Huckabee was triumphant in Iowa, but didn't gain enough momentum from the victory to win the nomination; he eventually lost to John McCain.

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The defeat added fuel to the argument that Iowa Republicans don't represent the GOP as a whole and don't vote for electable candidates.

Since 1980, only two out of five of the Iowa caucus winners have gone on to be the Republican nominees, while six out of nine Democrats who won in Iowa then received the Democratic nomination.

A Paul victory might also be a signal to other candidates to get out of the race.

Experts say if Paul goes on to win in Iowa and Bachmann and Santorum do not place in the top three, it will probably signal the end of their campaigns. However, a Paul victory over Gingrich could benefit Romney, who hasn't aggressively campaigned in Iowa and has faced the greatest competition from the former House speaker.

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A determining factor for a Ron Paul victory will no doubt be how successfully his campaign mobilizes his young supporters.

A Gallup poll released December 15 showed that 20 percent of Paul supporters were between the ages of 18 and 34 and the Daily Iowan, the student newspaper of the University of Iowa, endorsed Paul for his stance on small government and creative solutions to the nation's debt problems.

Paul support among young people is a driving force behind the prediction that he could come out ahead in Iowa, but the states' universities won't be in session during the caucuses. And, at Iowa's three largest colleges — the University of Iowa, Iowa State, and the University of Northern Iowa — 36 percent of the student body is from out of state.

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Bryce Witt, a student supporter and volunteer for Ron Paul, says he's not concerned students will be skipping out of the caucuses. Witt is confident student supporters will use time away from Iowa to spread Paul's message in their own backyards.

"And I don't think Ron Paul supporters, especially the young ones, need much leg-pulling to get their participation in the caucuses."