Niche voters giving Paul momentum in Iowa polls

By Trip Gabriel

The New York Times

VINTON, Iowa

Steve and Cindy Anders belong to one of Iowa’s most politically savvy movements – Christian home schoolers, whose organizing on behalf of Mike Huckabee in 2008 was one of the secrets behind his upset victory in the state’s Republican caucus.

This year the Anderses are behind Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who advocates a drastically shrunken federal government that includes closing the Education Department.

In a year when the Republican field is unusually fractured, with front-runners coming around as often as carousel ponies, Paul’s ability to mobilize niche groups like home schoolers may make a big difference. His campaign, which has won a number of straw polls and is picking up momentum, has demonstrated its ability to organize and mobilize supporters, which is particularly relevant in Iowa, where relatively small numbers can tip the scales in the caucuses.

For his part, Anders was looking forward to a meeting with a Ron Paul campaign staff member to strategize “how we can go to work for Ron Paul.”

“Home schoolers are really independently minded,” said Anders, estimating that most of the 10 other families in his Saturday morning coffee club in Council Bluffs, Iowa, support Paul. “He believes the federal government has no role in education, as most home schoolers will agree.”

Home-school families are among the converts to Paul who, along with small-business owners and voters well past college age, have helped him build support beyond his fierce core of followers, often young people.

His support has usually added up to less than 10 percent in opinion surveys of Republican primary voters.

But now, thanks to the best organized grass-roots campaign in Iowa and heavy spending on television ads that portray him as consistent while other Republicans have flip-flopped, Paul is breaking through that ceiling, giving rise to a once far-fetched scenario, that he might win the state’s caucuses on Jan. 3.

“I’m buying Ron Paul today,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director for the Republican Party of Iowa, who on Wednesday sent a Twitter message saying, “Ron Paul’s Iowa Campaign Office was abuzz at 8 pm tonight when I drove by on my way to the bank. Impressive.”

Two state polls this week show him in a statistical tie for first. One, released Monday by Bloomberg News, showed Paul winning 19 percent of likely Republican caucus voters, within the margin of error with Herman Cain, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

The Bloomberg poll showed that about two-thirds of Iowa respondents had been contacted by the Paul campaign by phone, email or a knock on the door, more outreach than any other candidate.

“We’ve been out-hustling the other campaigns,” said Jesse Benton, Paul’s national campaign manager.

Thanks to strong fundraising from small donors on the Internet, the campaign has been able to saturate the Iowa airwaves with ads. It has outspent all others – $2.5 million on TV and radio spots in Iowa and New Hampshire (where a Bloomberg poll had Paul in second this week behind Romney). It plans to spend $4 million more before the voting in those two states begins in less than two months.

The ads highlight Paul’s message of deep cuts to government spending and conveniently avoid his isolationist foreign policy, which risks turning off undecided voters.

Chuck Walsh, who works for his family’s GM-Toyota dealership in Carroll, Iowa, is a recent convert to Paul.

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