It’s still early in the Republican primary season. Only 9 of the 41 primaries/caucuses have occurred. The nomination is a long way from being decided. Any one of the four remaining candidates can not only still win it, but can still win it by a landslide. Large victories on Super Tuesday and in the California, New York, and Texas contests can all but nullify any value of victories obtained so far. So why do the candidates fight so hard to win in small states like Maine and Nevada?
The answer is momentum. Right or wrong, most voters are in some way affected by their perception of whether each candidate has the ability to win, rather than strictly by their political positions. Republican primary voters consider two questions. Can he win the nomination? Can he win the general election?
Thus, victories in these early and – from a quantitative perspective – meaningless primary contests are valuable to candidates purely for the effect they may have on the minds of voters in bigger states.
Ron Paul has chosen to focus his campaign on the caucus states, where he can acquire delegates even if he does not finish first in the contest. That strategy seems to have been successful so far, as Paul has locked up delegates in excess of his percentage of the straw poll votes. However, he and his supporters also know that he needs a win in at least one state to avoid going into the big contests with the disadvantage of not having one.
Paul’s best shots to win so far have been the caucuses in Iowa, Nevada, and Maine. Since long before the voting started, Paul’s supporters have had their eyes on these states due to the receptiveness there to Paul’s ideas and the conduciveness of their caucus processes to Paul’s strong political ground game. Paul finished in striking distance of first in Iowa and lost by less than 200 votes in Maine. He finished far behind Romney in Nevada, but was in contention for a very respectable 2nd place finish. He ended up finishing a close third to Newt Gingrich.
Coincidentally, those three caucuses where Paul had the best chance to win are the only three states where some sort of controversy or irregularity has arisen in the election process. The latest of these was in Maine, where the Washington County caucus was postponed due to a relatively benign (for Maine) weather forecast of 1-3 inches of snow. The Ron Paul campaign’s official statement pointed out that the Girl Scouts went ahead with one of their events in the very same county.
Washington County is one of Paul’s strongest in the state. It will hold its contest on Saturday February 18 and a lopsided victory there and in other towns that have not yet voted could conceivably allow Paul to win the state. However, Paul will have been denied the real value of his victory – the post-election, nationally-televised victory speech where all of those future primary voters see him firing up a raucous crowd of supporters.
In addition, Maine GOP Executive Director Michael Quatrano says that the Romney win on Saturday won’t be reversed even if Paul does end up finishing with more votes based upon the remaining counties. This is in stark contrast to Iowa, where Rick Santorum was announced as the winner several weeks after a Republican Party victory. Why the different treatment? It’s a legitimate question to ask.
It is not reasonable to assume that this all adds up to some sort of dark conspiracy against Ron Paul. There are many possible explanations, the simplest one being ineptitude. At the same time, it is naïve to deny that Paul’s campaign is opposed by the party establishment or to believe that this process is ever squeaky clean in any election year, regardless of who’s running. As government privileges give the two major parties a virtual monopoly on the political process, all primary elections should be watched closely for signs of corruption or fraud.
One shouldn’t rush to judgment on a charge that serious in a presidential election without compelling proof. That proof hasn’t been presented by anyone so far. However, when irregularities continue to occur and only in states where Paul has a good chance to win, an odor starts to arise that doesn’t smell like coincidence anymore. If this trend continues, then the GOP leadership shouldn’t complain if Ron Paul supporters start crying foul.
There are three contests left before Super Tuesday: Arizona, Michigan, and Washington. The Washington caucuses are Ron Paul’s best chance for a victory. Fairly or not, the pressure is on the Washington GOP to ensure that no appearance of impropriety occurs during this contest, especially if Ron Paul is in contention for the win. There is one way that they can avoid contributing to an unnecessary controversy. Run a clean and transparent election. Follow your own rules and don’t make any suspicious changes to procedure. Given the GOP’s performance so far this election cycle, one more coincidence will turn that funny odor into a downright stench.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.