Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), center, is… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)
Quietly, and very much under the radar, Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who no pundit believes has a serious chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, is staging a bit of comeback, returning to his position as a solid No. 3 candidate in the GOP race.
According to the USA Today/Gallup poll released on Tuesday, Paul was at 13%, displacing Rep. Michele Bachmann, who fell to 5% and into a three-way dead heat with former House speaker Newt Gingrich and businessman Herman Cain. Bachmann, who won a straw poll in Iowa last month, had been as high as second place before Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race in August, upsetting the standings.
Paul’s latest showing mirrors what was seen in a recent CNN/ORC International poll in which Paul was also in third place with 13% of the vote. He was behind Perry, in the top slot in both polls, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, once the front-runner, but now in second place. For Paul, that jump to 13% represents a doubling of his support.
Paul’s resurgence shows the power of a candidate with a dedicated group of supporters, who will stick through thick or thin. As a libertarian icon, Paul has been running virtually the same campaign for more than 20 years, since he was the Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 1988. He has helped make the idea of smaller government, spending little and doing less, a popular mantra and an explosive political factor in 2010 and 2012.
Those supporters also help Paul in straw votes, pseudo-elections in which a committed group of followers can overwhelm the ballot box. In the recent GOP state convention in California, Paul won another such straw poll with about 45% of the vote.
But Paul has done less well in scientific polls, designed to measure popularity across the nation by interviewing a scientific sample of voters and extrapolating to a broader electorate. Still, even by that measure, Paul, whose campaign had been floundering during the dog days of summer, has regained some momentum.
Part of the reason for the comeback is the popularity of Perry, in effect, stealing votes from Bachmann, who has also been hit by several miscues such as the loss of a top staffer. Bachmann and Perry are playing right field in the same political ballpark and there aren’t enough voters to support them both. As Bachmann’s campaign teetered, much of her ebbing support went to Perry.
Paul may be in the first tier, but he is a distant third. He may have already shaped the philosophical debate, but to win as a candidate, he will have to demonstrate he can do more than play Texas hold ‘em with true believers.