By David Hill - 11/14/07 09:17 PM EST
While Texan Ron Paul’s stock is soaring nationally, there is trouble on the home front. In September, Paul finished third in a straw poll of 1,300 Texas Republican activists who had been delegates to recent Republican conventions.
The congressman corralled just 17 percent of the votes cast, trailing California’s Duncan Hunter with 41 percent.
Paul, a long-time incumbent, was first elected to Congress in 1976. After a detour to run against Phil Gramm for the Senate in 1984 and for president as a libertarian in 1988, the former physician took over the district 14 seat in 1997.
It’s assumed he’ll seek reelection in the Republican primary next March, at the same time he’s still running for president. It’s entirely possible that Paul will be wreaking havoc in early-primary states across the country just as his base in Texas implodes. What kind of impact would that have on his presidential candidacy? It would be like a NASA astronaut aboard the International Space Station hearing that his home back in Texas burned down and firefighters discovered a meth lab in the smoldering embers. The trip home would, at once, be both devastating and embarrassing. Because NASA is based in Paul’s district, the metaphor may fit.
Angst over Paul has been building for years. In 2004, disgruntled Republicans asked me to find encouragement for challengers. We polled his suburban Houston district and found that voters resist his contrarian and stark libertarian perspective that even sells out local interests. When told that “Ron Paul consistently opposes taxpayer funding for NASA and wants to eliminate the agency,” 61 percent of Republican primary voters said this information would make them less likely to vote for Paul’s reelection. Similarly, a 54 percent majority said they’d be less likely to vote for Paul when told he “was one of only four Republicans in Congress to vote against President Bush’s plan to encourage faith-based charities.” The list of negatives was long.
To be fair, the 2004 polling also found that his voters endorsed some of the quirky congressman’s actions, particularly his refusal to take a congressional pension and his vote to allow airline pilots to carry guns after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But there was significantly more bad news than good in that poll for Rep. Paul. But detractors were unsuccessful is recruiting a suitable opponent.
Zoom ahead to this election cycle, almost four years later. Recent polling by another Texas Republican pollster confirms that Paul’s electorate doesn’t appreciate the increasingly leftish libertarian bent of Paul’s voting record. In the eyes of voters, Paul is now also wrong to oppose the Patriot Act, off base on energy policy that affects Texas enormously, and to be faulted for knee-jerk opposition to the fight against terror in the Middle East.
The difference this time is that Paul’s critics have a bona fide challenger lined up: Chris Peden, a mainline social conservative who has distinguished himself opposing the tax hijinks of local elected officials. If Paul files to run for both Congress and the presidency by the Jan. 2 deadline, he’ll likely lose to Peden on March 4. That’ll be OK, though. Dr. Paul can just move to New Hampshire where the libertarian Free State Project might try and elect him their first governor, leveraging the boost in name ID and image that his presidential bid will have wrought. Good riddance.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.