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Depth of Paul supporters could make difference in Iowa

By Shannon Travis, CNN Political Reporter
updated 5:11 PM EST, Mon January 2, 2012
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul joins his father, GOP presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul, on the campaign trail on Monday.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul joins his father, GOP presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul, on the campaign trail on Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Paul campaign has signed up 1,480 volunteers to serve as precinct leaders on caucus night
  • "I may come in first. I may come in second. I doubt if I'll come in third or fourth," Paul says
  • respected Iowa poll indicates Romney has support from 24% of likely GOP caucusgoers
  • The same poll also indicates 22% support Paul and 15% support Santorum

Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) -- In the sport of presidential politics, Republican candidate Ron Paul has an impressive ground game, a robust team of staffers and volunteers in Iowa and beyond.

His supporters' intensity and loyalty are unmatched by those of his rivals. At Paul campaign rallies, the size of his crowds leaves other campaigns envious. And, in terms of social media, Paul benefits from a legion of users who are on offense spreading his message and play defense when he's attacked.

At one of several planned stops across Iowa on Monday, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul -- campaigning with his father -- asked a cheering, overflowing room of students, "Anyone want government out of your business?"

"There is energy. There is energy and it is overflowing and it is big and it is coming tomorrow. We are going to win tomorrow," Rand Paul added.

But can a sophisticated operation and a cult of support accomplish a two-part goal: turn out enough Paul loyalists and convince undecided voters to help the candidate win the early political playoffs: Iowa's caucuses on Tuesday and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary on January 10?

CNN's Candy Crowley asked Paul on Sunday's "State of the Union" if he would win Iowa's first round.

"I have no idea what's going to happen. I may come in first. I may come in second. I doubt if I'll come in third or fourth," Paul responded.

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That will largely depend on who shows up at Iowa's 1,784 precincts to caucus for Paul and how many are able to sway their friends and neighbors to do the same.

The Paul campaign has signed up 1,480 volunteers to serve as precinct leaders on caucus night, CNN learned Monday. That's an impressive figure that rivals the more than 1,500 precinct leaders lined up by the campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

But, according to Paul's Iowa vice-chairman, David Fischer, the number of precinct leaders isn't the most important thing.

"The (number of precinct captains) doesn't mean as much as what the people are actually doing," Fischer said, "Is it really somebody who's working that precinct? Are they making phone calls? Are they banging on some doors, you know, to try and reach out and recruit some more Ron Paul supporters?"

Recruiting more Paul supporters will be key. Though many of Paul's events are often packed, it's also true that Paul loyalists frequently outnumber the undecideds. The resulting, delicate balancing act: Many Paul events become part pep rally for the faithful, part political proselytizing for those on the fence.

Frequently, after the candidate speaks then invites questions, staffers urge the Paul faithful to hold their fawning comments until after undecided voters get a chance to query the candidate.

Meanwhile, Paul is also looking beyond Iowa.

"The future of the campaign for liberty will always be ongoing," Paul told CNN's Crowley. "And I think we're going to have a good showing. We already have had. And we're doing quite well in New Hampshire. So I would say that the momentum for the cause of freedom in this country ... I would say the people are with me on this. And the momentum is going to continue regardless of exactly what happens and what place I am on Tuesday night."

CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein said while Paul enjoys big crowds and fierce support, that does not necessarily spell electoral success.

"People coming out is often a reflection more of the depth than the breadth of support," Brownstein said. "People coming out for events are those who are, you know, either shopping or deeply committed to a candidate. And certainly Ron Paul probably has greater intensity of support than most of the candidates."

There's also the issue of getting the loyalists to attend a caucus on Paul's behalf. For example, will many of Paul's college student supporters -- who overflow his campus rallies -- interrupt their winter breaks and travel back to Iowa to support him?

A fresh Des Moines Register Iowa poll looked at the level of voter commitment to attend the caucus in support of a candidate, among other items.

In the poll, 56% of Paul supporters said they would definitely attend. Seventy-six percent said they would definitely participate in the caucuses for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a number higher than any other candidate in the poll, while 58% said they would caucus for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Crowley asked Paul about those poll numbers.

"I wouldn't bet too much money on that kind of a statistic," he replied. "We have the names and telephone numbers and the enthusiasm. So I don't think -- only Tuesday is going to tell you how that's going to work out. We're pretty optimistic about getting our people out."

Overall, among likely Republican caucusgoers, the Register poll showed Romney with 24%, Paul with 22% and Santorum with 15%. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann followed with 12%, 11%, and 7%, respectively.

When asked by Crowley about Santorum's late-in-the-game rise in the polls, Paul said: "Well, maybe it's the people who just got frustrated with the other ones and they're just shifting their views. That's one thing you can't say about my supporters, they don't shift their views. Once they join and understand what the cause of liberty is all about, what the foreign policy is all about, what the monetary policy is all about -- they don't leave."

Brownstein used a traditional saying to explain a political proverb.

"It is a little bit of, 'In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.' You're looking at organizations, for all of the candidates -- possibly with the exception of Paul -- that are meager by historic standards," Brownstein said. "No one is building a ground game of the sort that we have seen in the past. No one has put the time into Iowa -- with the exception of Santorum and Bachmann -- that we've seen in the past. So it's going to be a relative advantage for (Paul)."

Santorum and Bachmann have earned headlines for visiting all 99 of Iowa's counties.

Brownstein made one point about a focus on organization.

"I am of the school that says organization is overrated in Iowa. I mean, once you start getting over 100,000 people voting, it's hard to make more than a marginal difference with organization. I mean, Dick Gephardt, Howard Dean, you know, thought they had great organizations."

CNN Political Reporter Peter Hamby contributed to this report.

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