One of America's great political characters is living his dream by running for President and seeing growing support. Congressman Ron Paul is surging and creating the scenarios of a brokered Republican Convention, with Paul as kingmaker, or a Ron Paul independent campaign for President.
Both scenarios are nightmares for the Republican party establishment but are growing in probability as Gingrich surges, Romney holds steady at about 20% -25% support, and Paul shows signs of expanding his support from a fringe 10% to a pivotal 20%.
New polls this week put Ron Paul at 19% of the vote and in a statistical tie with Herman Cain for the lead in Iowa as well as in third place in New Hampshire with 16% of the vote. While Cain is still polling well, I will voice conventional wisdom and say that the last 2 weeks have been devastating for Cain, and his poll numbers will soon follow the trail to the bottom blazed by Governor Perry and Congresswoman Bachmann.
Paul's polling numbers, however, are not a fluke and reflect millions of dollars being spent on television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire, a real ground game of supporters that are being professionally organized, a candidate that is showing up everywhere in Iowa and New Hampshire, and the benefits of his 2008 campaigns in both of these states.
Paul's surge coincides with Congressman Gingrich's rise that has now destroyed Governor Romney's once secure lead in New Hampshire. After having a 20 point lead in New Hampshire for most of this year, Romney this week has 29%, Gingrich 27%, Paul 16% and Cain 10%, according to the most recent poll done for the New Hampshire Journal. The decline of Romney in New Hampshire is hugely important and surprising, since if Romney cannot lockdown New Hampshire, then Romney cannot lockdown the nomination for many months or win it ever.
With just 6 weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd, a wide range of outcomes are realistically possible from Romney winning both Iowa and New Hampshire with about 30%-35%; to Gingrich winning; or Ron Paul winning at least one of the contests. While for Mitt Romney the Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses are almost do or die, since Romney has decided to compete fully in Iowa and is ramping up his campaign there for a sprint to the finish, neither Iowa nor New Hampshire will end Ron Paul's campaign for the Republican nomination or begin a possible independent run.
Ron Paul will compete in every state at least through early April, drawing often about 20% of the vote, and creating a real possibility of a three-way splintering of the Republican convention delegates between Romney, now probably Gingrich as the main anti-Romney conservative, and himself. Ron Paul' s success may create a choice for him.
Does Paul go to the Republican convention as kingmaker of the Republican party or run for President as an independent, something that he has repeatedly refused to rule out? It is hard to imagine a Republican convention, with Ron Paul in the role of kingmaker, that nominates Romney, and it is near impossible for Romney, even if he wins the nomination, to win the Presidency, with Ron Paul running as an independent.
Ron Paul will not be the next President of the United States, but he may decide both who will be the Republican nominee and who will win the 2012 general election. That outocme would not be Ron Paul's dream come true, but it would be a nightmare for the Republican party.