Ron Paul's Quest for Victory, Also Known As "Second Place"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 10 2012 11:06 AM

Ron Paul's Quest for Victory, Also Known As "Second Place"

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The final pre-primary Suffolk poll gives Romney a solid lead -- 37 percent -- and bunches up the not-Romneys in two tiers. Tier one: Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Tier two: Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

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That's a small sign of danger for Ron Paul. He put together a big lead for second place, and he's struggling to keep it. Huntsman, who has won the most glowing media attention I've ever seen since Dakota Fanning's first junkets, is succeeding a little in his quest to pull independents and liberals from Paul. (Brian Doherty tackles this subject today, linking back to my take on it from Saturday. I don't think we actually disagree -- I'm describing what Huntsman wants voters to think, not what I think.) But Paul utterly dominates Huntsman on the air. I spent two hours in a cafe yesterday, with a TV in the background turned to an ABC affiliate, and saw three Romney ads, three Paul ads, and one independent businessman's cheap Huntsman ad.

If Paul blows it, I know what to blame: The odd final day of his campaign. In Iowa, Ron and Rand Paul closed out the caucus campaign with a daylong "whistle-stop" tour of cities and college towns -- Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Des Moines, etc. Yesterday in New Hampshire, Paul's schedule went like this.

- Early morning restaurant visit ruined by overwhelming media presence.

- Late morning invite-only town hall with home-schoolers, heavily infiltrated by Massachusetts tourists.

- Afternoon visit to a Timberland facility.

None of this produced good imagery. The after-action media reports on Paul were mostly about the scrums, his truncated, annoyed interview with CNN (which was trying to report out the story of a voter who wept when she couldn't meet Paul), and the dark tone of his campaign (which isn't new). Contrast this with Huntsman, who spent Monday with seven photo ops, TV reporters dutifully running footage of the candidate smiling at voters and bakers. If this frivolity matters, Huntsman will outperform Paul with late deciders.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.