Rep. Ron Paul is likely to carry a significant number of delegates into the Republican National Convention this summer, perhaps one-fifth of the total, which is enough to make him an important power broker.
"It's a phenomenon," says a senior Republican who advised a GOP president in the White House and is neutral in the GOP race this year. "His floor and his ceiling are one and the same." Paul received about one-fifth of the vote in both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Recent polls suggest this may be his support level in the South Carolina primary, which is scheduled for Saturday. Paul added some momentum to his effort last weekend when he received the endorsement of state Sen. Tom Davis, an influential conservative leader in South Carolina.
Many Republican strategists are speculating on what this level of support for Paul will mean at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. The Texas congressman will certainly push for libertarian planks in the platform, such as huge cuts in federal spending and elimination of some government departments--two goals which many other Republicans will share. He will also want a prime-time speaking slot at the convention.
But Paul's opposition to many U.S. military commitments around the world violates GOP orthodoxy, and if he insists on pushing those ideas, there could be a big fight that could leave behind bitter resentments and disunity that would hurt the eventual GOP nominee.
What many senior Republicans fear is a scenario where Paul and his supporters are so angry that he runs as a third-party or independent candidate this fall, which would draw significant backing from the GOP standard-bearer.
One thing that Paul and his supporters won't have to complain about is being ignored by the news media. For weeks, Paul and his backers had complained that the Texas congressman was being marginalized by the media. Now he is frequently in the news, and in some cases in a negative way, which is always a peril when the media take a candidate seriously and begin to focus on him or her.
This week, the Associated Press reported that in the past couple of years, Paul "has been spending large amounts on airfare as a congressman, flying first class on dozens of taxpayer-funded flights to his home state. The practice conflicts with the image that Paul portrays as the only presidential candidate serious about cutting federal spending.
Paul flew first-class on at least 31 round-trip flights and 12 one-way flights since May 2009. The AP found that Paul charged taxpayers nearly $52,000 on the more expensive flights or $27,621 more than the average Continental air fare for the flights between Washington and Houston.
A Paul spokesman told the AP that his office buys the more expenseive tickets because they are refundable and sometimes he needs to change travel plans under the press of congressional business.