Paul eyes pivotal role with Alaska win
Mary Vallis, National Post
Published: Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul takes questions
during the MTV/MySpace "Closing Arguments" presidential
forum Feb. 2, 2008, in New York City.
While Mitt Romney and John McCain fight over Super Tuesday's biggest prizes -- California, New York and Georgia -- one Republican candidate is looking north. Way north.
Ron Paul's supporters are convinced he will carry Alaska. The candidate's unique take on gun owners' rights, his anti-tax message and call for limited government all resonate in the northwestern state, says Craig Bergman, Mr. Paul's political director in Alaska.
"In Fairbanks, they've been doing sign-waving in temperatures so cold that the plastic signs shatter," he said.
Although Mr. Paul's popularity hovers around 6% in national polls, Mr. Bergman is confident he will win the state's 29 Republican delegates after today's caucuses.
"They like to go with the underdog. They like to go with the outsider," he said from the Paul campaign office in Anchorage. (The political nerve centre is located behind a pub called the Moose's Tooth, a local landmark.)
"They still have that independent American streak."
He points to Alaska's tradition of voting differently from the lower 48 states: Pat Buchanan won the Alaska Republican straw poll in 1996, Pat Robertson took the party caucuses in 1988 and in 2000 Steve Forbes came just a few votes from beating George W. Bush.
After analyzing Mr. Paul's chances in about 20 states to decide where the campaign's money would be best spent, Mr. Bergman settled on Alaska.
He expects Mr. Paul could become a kingmaker if he wins the state and a close battle between Mr. Romney and Mr. McCain results in a brokered convention.
Indeed, Mr. Paul, a libertarian, is the only candidate actively courting votes in a state easily forgotten during national political races. His team of 12 full-time staffers in Alaska is larger than his political machines in Michigan, South Carolina and even Florida.
The other Republican candidates have only dallied in the state, say the Paul campaign workers. They have relied on relatives to get their message out: Mr. Romney's son dropped by last week and Mike Huckabee's wife visited on the weekend.
In contrast, Mr. Paul held a conference call with reporters in Alaska and bought newspaper ads. His team also organized a series of events. (Last night it was a town-hall meeting titled, "Who is Ron Paul and Why Is He Trying To Save My Country?")
The 10-term Texas congressman is also advertising the endorsement of 35 Alaska war veterans. His campaign claims it has received more military donations than the other three Republicans combined. This is although Mr. Paul advocates an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Despite the frigid weather -- the expected low in Anchorage today is –22 C -- Mr. Bergman is confident that enough Paul supporters will attend GOP caucuses to make the difference. Party organizers are expecting up to 5,000 registered Republicans to turn out.
"There is a fairly strong libertarian presence that doesn't show up at the polls a lot," said Carl Shepro, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.
"But a strong libertarian candidate would certainly attract them."
The Paul campaign has tried to organize five co-chairs in each of Alaska's 40 legislative districts to organize support in a pyramid fashion, with each Paul supporter trying to find five more, but Mr. Bergman will not reveal how successful the strategy has been.