"You do exactly what Ron Paul said ... you have to get health care to start working more like a market," Romney said in a debate in December when asked how he would improve health coverage as president.
Romney reiterated that praise this week in a conference call with Maine supporters, saying Paul's years as a doctor gave him real world experience Gingrich and Santorum lack.
For Romney, staying on Paul's good side is also strategic.
Paul's presence in the race weakens Gingrich and Santorum, making things easier for Romney, the field's front-runner. Paul has earned more than 10 percent of the vote in every contest so far, except for the 7 percent he earned in Florida. And he's finished in the top three in three of the first eight contests. Those are voters who might otherwise support Gingrich or Santorum, since there is little overlap between Romney's voters and Paul's.
Paul may have something more tangible to give Romney as well: delegates.
So far, Paul has earned just nine delegates, but he's likely to accumulate many more because of the new proportional voting system adopted by most states. That means Paul may be in a position to arrange a transfer of some delegates to Romney at the Republican National Convention, which could be significant if Romney is locked in a tight race with another rival.
"If Mitt Romney remains on good relations with Ron Paul, they should be able to come to a polite agreement on how that will work," Dennehy said.
Fouhy reported from New York. Associated Press researcher Judith Ausebel also contributed to this report.
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