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Santorum's campaign suspended, will his followers join Ron Paul?

Peter GrierThe Christian Science Monitor
Eric Adams photo

Ron Paul's schedule over coming weeks points to his strength with American youth. Does staying in the GOP nomination race help Mitt Romney or President Obama?

There are a number of compelling reasons why Ron Paul might want to drop his presidential campaign.

First off, Mitt Romney has pretty much won the GOP nomination. That means the single-digit chance Congressman Paul had of sitting in the White House has now fallen to a number perilously close to zero.

Second, the trail is long, and the days are hard. Food is bad and sleep is limited. It can be tough to find the time to get in a good walk in the morning and an afternoon bike ride, as Paul likes to do.

“When I don’t get my adequate amount of exercise I get very grouchy,” admitted Paul last week during an interview with John Stossel on Fox Business News.

But Paul remains in it, if not to win it, then to promote his ideas. He’s long said that he wants to build a political movement as much as anything else, and if you look at his upcoming events, they remain heavy on appearances at colleges, which remain his most fertile ground for winning converts.

On April 18 Paul is scheduled to speak at the University of Rhode Island, for instance. On April 19 he’s supposed to be at Cornell. On April 20 the venue is the University of Pittsburgh.

This emphasis on youth points out one of Paul’s remaining electoral strengths – he’s relatively strong in the 18-to-34 demographic, while presumptive nominee Mr. Romney is relatively weak. A Gallup poll from April 12 shows them about tied in that sub-group, though Romney leads comfortably among GOP voters overall.

This could give Paul some leverage in regard to speaking spots and platform planks leading into the GOP National Convention in Tampa.

“Romney has a significant problem among younger Republican voters ... Romney’s challenge is to capture some of the enthusiasm young Republican voters have for Paul in an attempt to blunt Obama’s strength among this group,” wrote Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport last week.

Paul’s leverage may be enhanced by the fact that he appears to be picking up some former supporters of Rick Santorum, who are turning to him as the means for an anti-Romney protest vote.

For instance, at Colorado’s state GOP convention last weekend, Paul and Santorum supporters joined in a “Conservative Unity Slate” to win national convention delegate spots that the Romney forces had thought would fall to them.

The Paul/Santorum forces won 13 of the Colorado delegates chosen by congressional district. The Romney forces rallied to take at least eight at-large delegates, according to the Denver Post.

Paul’s continuing strategy of focusing on delegates as opposed to straw-poll beauty contests also paid off last week in Minnesota. Of delegates and alternates chosen last week by the Minnesota GOP in congressional district meetings, the Paul forces were “18 for 18: 9 dels/9 alts,” tweeted Pat Anderson, a national committeewoman from Minnesota for the Republican National Committee.

Paul’s campaign crowed about these successes last Saturday, issuing a release saying that the Texas libertarian “achieved consequential delegate wins in Colorado and Minnesota today, affirming his delegate-attainment strategy and auguring a prominent role for Paul at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.”

The fact is, however, that “consequential delegate wins” is in the eye of the beholder. According to the Associated Press delegate tracker, Paul has won 52 delegates. Santorum, in contrast, had 270 when he dropped out. Romney has 684 and counting.

Going forward, Paul is thus facing the somewhat difficult task of continuing a campaign devoted to spreading his ideas without appearing as if he is out-of-touch with electoral reality.