Republican officials are pushing back on claims in the media and competing GOP campaigns that a likely Ron Paul victory in the January 3 Iowa caucuses would be meaningless because critics view the Texas congressman as a political gadfly.
"It would be a mistake to call an Iowa win by Paul irrelevant," said a Republican official closely monitoring the campaigns in Iowa.
The main reason: Voters in Iowa believe that Paul is the only candidate in the field with the authenticity to talk about the budget issues they are focused on. "The talk in Iowa is about spending, deficits, and debt, and Ron Paul has been talking about those issues for five years," said a key official closely monitoring the Iowa race that Paul now leads.
What's more, as Newt Gingrich's lead dwindles, it's Paul and not Mitt Romney who is surging, despite all the spending by Romney's campaign on TV ads.
"That's just another indication of the weakness of the Republican field. Don't blame Ron Paul for surging, blame others like [Mississippi Gov.] Haley Barbour, [Indiana Gov.] Mitch Daniels, and others for not getting into the race. Ron Paul can win and should win this thing. He's run the smartest campaign and he has the money," said a key GOP official.
A new Iowa State University poll has Paul leading Gingrich by more than 2 percent. Meanwhile, say Iowa Republican officials, concerns about the leading candidates has sparked a recent surge of interest in Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who is typically last in polls.
Many in the media and Washington political establishment have been dismissing Paul's potential Iowa victory. But GOP primary experts say it could push his campaign into a stronger position in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the primaries following the Iowa caucuses.
"Listen, nobody dismissed New Hampshire when Pat Buchanan did well against President Bush in 1992," said the Republican official. Buchanan won the 1996 New Hampshire primary, a year Bob Dole was the Republican nominee. [Check out 2011: The Year in Cartoons.]
To energize his campaign more, Paul is expected to be joined by his son, Sen. Rand Paul, around New Year's as he wraps up his campaign.