Skip to main content
ABC News
A Living Autopsy of the Ron Paul Campaign

The Republican primary has reached an endgame. Mitt Romney has turned his attention to President Obama and the general election. Rick Santorum is trying to remain relevant. And Newt Gingrich has downsized his campaign.

Ron Paul remains mostly an afterthought, electorally – a candidate pushing a message more than a candidacy. By at least one metric – his chance of occupying the Oval Office – Mr. Paul is doing no better than he did in 2008. But by most other yardsticks, Mr. Paul this year has far exceeded the accomplishments of his 2008 campaign, reflecting, perhaps, how much the mood of the country has shifted.

Mr. Paul’s share of the overall vote has more than doubled. He won 10 percent of the cumulative vote in the 32 states that have voted so far this year. In the states that voted on or before Super Tuesday in 2008 (27 states), Mr. Paul received just 4 percent.

In both elections, Mr. Paul performed better in time-intensive caucuses than in primaries, helped by the enthusiasm of his supporters. Although, the difference was less pronounced this year. Mr. Paul finished almost a full spot higher, on average, in caucuses than in primaries in 2008. In 2012, he averaged about a half spot higher in caucuses.

One area where the Paul campaign has not improved is fund-raising.

Mr. Paul has actually raised slightly less money than he did during the 2008 race. From January 2007 through the end of February 2008, he raised $34,712,765.62. From January 2011 through February 2012, he collected $34,354,651.01 (although the “super PAC” supporting Mr. Paul during the current cycle, Endorse Liberty, has also raised over $4 million.

Still, in campaigns, money is raised to win votes, and Mr. Paul has won many more votes in 2012. What accounts for his success? It is possible that Mr. Paul has simply run a better campaign. But the more likely explanation is that the mood of the country is more aligned to Mr. Paul’s views than it was in 2008.

The rise of the Tea Party may have helped the Paul candidacy, at least indirectly, by raising the prominence of small-government ideas in the national conversation. And Mr. Paul is often referred to as the spiritual and ideological godfather of the Tea Party.

One of the most significant of Mr. Paul’s positions to gain in popularity is his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In September 2009, 47 percent of adults said the United States was “doing the right thing” in Afghanistan, compared to 42 percent who said the United States “should not be involved,” according to a survey by The New York Times and CBS News. The most recent poll found 69 percent against American involvement in Afghanistan, with just 23 percent saying the country was doing the right thing.

Mr. Paul’s call for the United States to leave Afghanistan — once anathema in a Republican primary — has actually caught on among the other Republican candidates. On domestic issues, too, Mr. Paul’s positions — like his worries about the federal debt and his distrust of the Federal Reserve — are often echoed by his rivals.

Of course, winning the White House remains a remote proposition for Mr. Paul, but his ideological positions stand a better chance of winning than they did in 2008.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.