Long Shot Ron Paul Finds A Hotbed of Support in Alaska

By: Wall Street Journal


FAIRBANKS, Alaska — With Super Tuesday looming, many presidential candidates are battling over delegate-rich states like California and New York. Ron Paul is making it big in Alaska.

“I think Ron Paul is awesome,” says Schaeffer Cox, a 23-year-old who leads an unofficial group supporting the Republican presidential candidate here. “He’s not the most dynamic, rock-star kind of guy — but he’s got ideas.”

The libertarian-leaning candidate’s vows to slash federal spending and pull out of Iraq have attracted Mr. Paul a fervent following. While other long-shot candidates have dropped out of the race, Mr. Paul has been able to keep at it and hope for a surprise win because he has raised huge sums of money, largely from individual contributors over the Web.

Some of his more radical ideas, like abolishing taxes and letting people carry firearms in national parks, have kept him from rising above fringe status in most states. In Alaska, where residents don’t pay state income tax and often own guns for hunting and protection, his message has a more concentrated appeal.

Within weeks of his announcement in March that he would run for the presidential nomination, Mr. Paul’s supporters in Alaska began informally campaigning. They clustered on cold, dark afternoons to wave Ron Paul signs at intersections. When Fox News left Mr. Paul out of a televised forum in New Hampshire with the other Republican candidates last month, they stood in front of a Fox News affiliate in Anchorage to protest.

Mr. Paul’s national campaign is now trying to harness the local support. A few weeks ago, Craig Bergman, a consultant for Mr. Paul’s campaign, phoned volunteers across the country to find pockets of local enthusiasm that he could tap. He was impressed with the “natural support” for Mr. Paul here — so just more than a week ago, he opened offices in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Mr. Paul now has eight full-time staffers in the state, more than he had in Michigan, Florida or South Carolina. Friday, Mr. Paul hosted a live phone call with Alaskan voters.

In this year’s highly competitive race, amid a compressed slate of primaries and caucuses, presidential candidates are increasingly campaigning in out-of-the-way places.

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who has been campaigning aggressively in often-ignored locales, has rented space in the Democratic Party headquarters in Anchorage, says Patti Higgins, the party’s state chair.

Republican Mitt Romney has appointed a small steering committee in Alaska. His son Josh has campaigned in the state for him, and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski has endorsed him.

Mr. Paul needs all the help he can get. The Texas congressman — who placed third for president in 1988 when he ran as a libertarian — scored a third-place finish in Maine this weekend and a second-place finish in Nevada, with 19% and 14% of the vote, respectively, but has picked up few delegates. Alaska gives him a shot at getting a few more.

While there have been no official polls in Alaska, local pollsters and officials say Mr. Paul could garner at least 10% — and possibly upward of 20% — of the vote. That compares with 4% to 6% of the national vote, according to polls of Republicans.

“Alaska is a very, very limited-government state — they aren’t even embarrassed to use the word ‘libertarian’ up there,” Mr. Paul, 72 years old, said in an interview.

In Alaska, the caucus is in large part a numbers game. Many of the state’s 683,000 residents live in hard-to-reach spots outside of the road system. Randy Ruedrich, head of the Republican Party in Alaska and a former libertarian, expects just 5,000 to 7,000 to turn out at the Republican caucuses.

Mr. Paul’s campaign goal is aggressive: With 40 districts in Alaska, he wants to persuade 200 people in each district — 8,000 people total — to vote for him. Mr. Paul’s staffer Mr. Bergman is pushing a tried-and-true approach: Cold-call registered voters to identify supporters and encourage them to vote.

Getting a group of individualists to stick to the same approach is tough. At Mr. Paul’s Anchorage campaign office last week, staffer Kerri Price held a conference call to ask local volunteers what they had done so far to campaign.

“I’ve been out on street corners and whatnot holding signs,” said Aaron Morse, a volunteer in Anchorage.

“Does anyone have any lists of supporters, or has anyone been out canvassing, or do we have any precinct captains?” Ms. Price asked.

“Nope,” Mr. Morse said.

Write to Vauhini Vara at vauhini.vara@wsj.com

* Content From the Wall Street Journal supplied by Elva Ramirez:

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