Betting on Ron Paul

Four years ago, Nevada’s presidential caucus demonstrated the closeness of the Democratic presidential race when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton wound up in a pitched battle for delegates. This time around, the Republican presidential caucus would figure to matter: Newt Gingrich suddenly has risen to the top, the latest in a line of (seemingly) more conservative candidates the base prefers to Mitt Romney.  With Romney late to the dance in Iowa and the presumptive frontrunner in New Hampshire, the states that follow may have something to say.

But Nevada could throw a wrench into the works. First, Romney is supposed to win here, given his ties to Utah and his important role in the Mormon Church, which has plenty of Republicans and plenty of Romney supporters. This isn’t necessarily the place to create a steamroller effect if, indeed, that’s what he needs to do.

Second, Nevada Republicans have historically been more Libertarian than their counterparts in Iowa and New Hampshire, and that has been good for Ron Paul and his supporters. In 2008, Romney won 51 percent of the caucus and 18 of Nevada’s 31 delegates. Paul ran second with nearly 14 percent and four delegates. He received more votes than John McCain, who won the nomination and, after all, comes from neighboring Arizona. Throw in that Paul’s supporters almost took over the state Republican convention a few months later, and Romney should be concerned about more than just Newt Gingrich.

Robert Fellner thinks things will be even better this time for Paul, and he’s trying to do something to make sure of that. He lives in downtown Las Vegas and decided to try to raise the money to buy a billboard advertising Paul at Main Street and Charleston Avenue. He needed to raise about $2,500 to do it and, using his blog, did it, with the bulk of the money coming from local Paul supporters.  One donor was “a Henderson resident who felt uncomfortable sending money online and requested I drive out to his home.” He said, “I would say within the first 10 or 15 seconds after we met, it was like, we both support Ron Paul, I know you. … The act of meeting a stranger went away so rapidly.”

Indeed, Fellner talked about how “heartwarming it is to have that sense of community.”  Many talk about how it’s lacking in Southern Nevada, but a community really has developed around Paul and among his supporters.

The man did become a bit concerned when he learned that Fellner was a former professional online poker player—where might that money be going? Well, it went toward the billboard, and the two are indeed true believers in Paul. Fellner said he sees a lot of fellow Libertarians who are, like him, betting (sorry about that) on Paul.

“I would not support Mitt Romney, and this is a very significant factor in this election,” Fellner said. “For many Ron Paul supporters, for me personally, it’s Paul or that’s it.” When he manned the phones for the campaign, “numerous times, people who would select Gingrich or Romney would say something like, oh, I guess him because he’s the only name I recognize. The Ron Paul supporters don’t say that. They understand his principles and are drawn to him very strongly.”

Fellner’s experience with raising money for the billboard and working on the campaign gives him higher hopes for Paul this time around. Paul’s campaign strikes him as better organized and better funded than it was when he was involved in 2008. Nor does he see bitterness toward others so much as a hatred for business (or, perhaps more accurately, politics) as usual. Considering some of the unpleasantness emanating from the Gingrich and Romney camps, not to mention from other Republican candidates (not to name names, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum), that’s kind of nice to contemplate.

Romney might not want to contemplate that the anti-Romney sentiment among Nevada Republicans may be stronger than he thinks.  Gingrich might not want to contemplate that he may not be the beneficiary of it. RIf Paul’s supporters have this much commitment, the Republican caucus could be far more interesting than even the Republican Party wants it to be.