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Not so long ago, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich probably thought he had the Iowa Caucus in the bag when he looked at his astounding lead in the polls. But things are changing every day in the Hawkeye State. And Gingrich’s opponent, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, is looking like The Little Engine That Could who just might triumph over Gingrich, Romney and the other Republican presidential candidates on January 3, when Iowa holds its presidential caucuses that officially kick off the 2012 presidential primary election season.
A recent Iowa University poll put Paul in the lead there and master political number cruncher Nate Silver also has Paul leading the pack in Iowa. Most political observers have marveled at how each Republican hopeful has had his or her moment to be that party’s “flavor of the month,” with voters switching interest and support among the GOP candidates almost as frequently as toddlers change their minds over what they want for dessert. Virtually no one thought the libertarian leaning Paul would become the new thing of the political right, but it looks like he is finally having his Haagen Dazs Black Walnut moment.
If the numbers from Silver and others are to be believed, Paul is also looking good in New Hampshire, where he’s neck and neck for first place with Gingrich, and in South Carolina, where he’s currently polling as a strong third place. So does this surge in Paul’s numbers mean Republican voters are tiring of traditional candidates and are willing to give a hands-off government kind of guy a chance? Or are they just exploring every potential option for president, as they become more fed up with their choices?
As the Iowa Caucus creeps closer, here are four things you need to know about Ron Paul to help you compare him with the other Republican candidates:
1. Homeschoolers love Ron Paul. Well, I’m sure not ALL homeschoolers love this libertarian-leaning congressman. But much of his support comes from the homeschooling community who like his views on eliminating the federal Department of Education, as well as his ideas about increasing tax credits homeschooling families. And Paul is taking advantage of this interest by prominently featuring his views on homeschooling at his campaign’s website.
2. He’s a fundraising dynamo. Paul has proven his ability to garner financial support from his fans. In 2008, he raised more than $4 million in one weekend as he tried to win the Republican nomination. And this time around, in the third quarter of 2011, he raised $8 million when his political team expected that if he earned $5 million that would be considered a success. Those numbers might not be up there with Mitt Romney and others, but those are pretty respectable numbers for someone the GOP sees as something of a contrarian. When it comes to fundraising, Paul is the master of the “moneybomb” – simultaneously timed contributions from small donors to make the biggest splash at important moment during the campaign. So while he may not be raising the most money, he knows how to get the most election time bang for his buck.
3. Paul is no fan of government funded programs like Social Security and Medicare. This is an especially touchy subject for Paul, whose uninsured 2008 campaign manager died of viral pneumonia, leaving hospital bills for his medical care that topped $400,000. During one of the Republican candidate debates, Paul was asked, “Should society just let uninsured people die?” For many voters, his answer was unsatisfactory. He told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer he would not turn anyone away from a hospital that needed health care, but he added that people should take responsibility for their own choices, including whether or not to buy health insurance, and should have to live by those decisions.
4. Paul says he’s not a racist. With Paul’s ascent in the polls, new stories questioning his past positions and actions have surfaced, including accounts of newsletters distributed 20 years ago under his name that supposedly contained racist and homophobic comments. While Paul denies having any involvement in creating the content or distributing the newsletters, one of them refers to his personal opposition to the creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, calling it an annual “Hate Whitey Day.”
So is Ron Paul the current Republican flash in the pan? Or is he the kind of candidate that voters just might get behind as they tire of politics as usual with the other GOP candidates?
iVillage contributor Joanne Bamberger writes about the intersection of motherhood and politics at her blog, PunditMom. She is the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America, which is on sale now at Amazon.com.
Plus, watch our GOP Cheat Sheet Video: iVillage Chief Correspondent Kelly Wallace and iVillage contributor and Pundit Mom Joanne Bamberger reveal four things you might not know about Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry