Caucus format plays to Paul's strength
Texas congressman Ron Paul's map to winning delegates for the Republican presidential nomination is off the beaten path, but experts agree it's the road he should take in order to make his mark.
"You go with your strengths," said Michael Genovese, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. "Paul has a small but devoted core of followers, so he has an edge in a caucus state."
Nevada's caucus on Saturday is one of four this month. Maine begins a weeklong caucus on Saturday, and Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses on Tuesday. Because caucuses typically attract party activists who don't mind spending an evening listening to last-minute campaign pitches before voting, Paul could keep his Libertarian message in the spotlight.
In addition to people loyal to his ideology, Paul built a following among voters ages 18-29, who are likely to "spend the time necessary to give him support," Genovese said.
"If you just want to get your message out and show significance in the Republican Party, this is a very cost-effective way for Paul to do it," he said.
Though he ranks fourth in a four-man race -- with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the lead, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich second and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania third -- Paul, a Green Tree native, is hoping to secure some of the 28 delegates to the Republican National Convention that Nevada offers.
"It is entirely possible that in the caucus states of Nevada and even Colorado, Ron Paul could eclipse Newt Gingrich," said Eldon Eisenach, a political scientist at the University of Tulsa.
So far, Paul has only four committed delegates. Romney holds a commanding lead after Florida's primary on Tuesday, with 87. Gingrich has 26 and Santorum, 14. Party rules require a candidate to have 1,144 to clinch the nomination.
Romney won the backing of 45 percent of 426 likely Republican caucus-goers in a poll conducted Jan. 27-31 for the Las Vegas Review-Journal by the Cannon Survey Center at the University of Nevada. Gingrich had support from 25 percent of those surveyed; Santorum, 11 percent; Paul, 9 percent. One in 10 respondents was undecided.
Paul skipped campaigning in winner-take-all Florida, saying he lacked the money and organization needed to win there. He headed instead to Maine.
"Paul tends to outperform polls in caucus contests," said Chuck Poplstein, executive director of the Colorado Republican Party. "He has a lot of loyal backers and energy in caucus contests, including Colorado."
GOP leaders in Nevada expect 50,000 people to participate; Poplstein said 70,000 could vote in Colorado.