Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's strategists say they have discovered a surprising source of support for their candidate—Latinos in Florida.
Paul hasn't made any overt appeals for the Hispanic vote, his advisers say. In fact, he has barely campaigned in Florida at all because he considers the odds too great against him, although he did participate in a Tampa debate earlier this week and is preparing for another one in Jacksonville tonight. But a Paul spokesman cites a new poll indicating that the Texas congressman has the support of 41.5 percent of likely Hispanic Republican voters in Florida, with former House Speaker New Gingrich second at 25.3 percent, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts at 9.2 percent, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at 4.1 percent.
This suggests that Paul could do better than expected in Florida's presidential primary next Tuesday.
Other polls, however, have Paul far behind. A survey sponsored by Univision, ABC News and Latino Decisions, released yesterday, found that Romney was ahead among Latinos in Florida with 35 percent, Gingrich had 20, Santorum 7, and Paul 6, with 21 percent undecided.
But Paul strategists argue that their candidate is gaining traction with Latinos, a key voting bloc in Florida.
"Ron Paul's support among Hispanic Republicans makes sense," says Jesse Benton, Paul's national campaign chariman, "since Hispanics desire the same reforms that their non-Hispanic counterparts want—strong purchasing power for their hard-earned dollars, a regulatory climate hospitable to business and job growth, and personal and economic liberties returned so decision-making on important life matters occurs in the home and not in Washington."
Other Paul strategists speculate that Hispanics see Paul as a strong advocate of policies that reward individual effort and entrepreneurship so everyone can pursue the American Dream.
The strategists also suggest that Hispanics like the idea that Paul wants to shake up a system in which the rich get huge government benefits through low tax rates, big tax breaks and other means, while everyday people have a hard time making ends meet.
Overall, polls show that, among all likely GOP voters in Florida, Paul is battling Santorum for third place but is far behind Romney and Gingrich. A Time/CNN poll in Florida released yesterday shows Romney at 36 percent and Gingrich at 34, essentially a dead heat. Santorum had 11 percent and Paul 9.
But Paul strategists say he is concentrating not on racking up huge totals in every state but on winning delegates in smaller states where his disciplined army of organizers can make a difference.
That means mostly bypassing the mega state of Florida where TV advertising is extremely expensive and not very cost-effective, and focusing on places like Colorado, Minnesota, Maine and Nevada, early voting states that have caucuses.
It's an unusual strategy, but it might give Paul what he has wanted all along—a national forum for his ideas and a way to affect the Republican platform.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Paul wouldn't predict any victories for himself in the next few primaries and caucuses but wouldn't rule out some surprises. "I just think that this thing is so up and down," he said, referring to the volatile race for the GOP nomination. "Romney was up for a long time; now he's down. Gingrich was down at the bottom, and now he's up. How many [GOP candidates] have come and gone? One thing you can't say about my campaign: I don't come and go. All I do is add."
Asked if he would run as a third-party candidate if he fails to win the GOP nomination, Paul said, "It's awfully premature because…you're waiting to find out what states I'm going to win and how many. So we have a few months to go before" making a decision.
Paul has had relatively strong showings in the GOP nominating contests so far, but he has yet to win one.