Will Ron Paul Be the Next GOP Frontrunner?

Ron Paul, the 76-year-old Texas congressman, appears to have a real chance of winning the Iowa caucus on January 3. In the two most recent surveys taken this week, he has moved into second place, leading Mitt Romney by 5 points in each poll and pulling within one point of Newt Gingrich in one of the surveys.

Gingrich may have peaked too soon, providing his competitors enough time to damage him with their ad campaigns. Even worse, Gingrich’s attack on Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital this week, which could have been delivered by the group chanters of Occupy Wall Street, was a good example of his  ability to self-destruct .

New York Times polling guru Nate Silver argues that the Iowa race is very fluid, and that Paul is the latest candidate to demonstrate some momentum. Silver, who weights the most recent poll results much more heavily than earlier ones, believes Paul is headed for a second place showing of 20% or more, and if his momentum continues, and Gingrich’s recent slippage accelerates, maybe in the low 30% range, which would almost certainly mean victory. Silver rates Paul’s chances of winning outright in Iowa at 28%.

After Iowa comes the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire and Paul is hanging in strong, polling in the high teens in 3rd place .

If Paul were to win Iowa, it is certainly possible he could pass Gingrich for second in New Hampshire. But winning New Hampshire is not out of the question, either. If Mitt Romney’s numbers continue to trend down in Iowa, and he finishes a very weak 4th or 5th , which would be a real blow to maintaining his position as one of the national frontrunners,  a Paul victory in Iowa might give him enough of a pop in New Hampshire to win there too.

Could Ron Paul be the new GOP front runner after New Hampshire?  Why not? Just a month back, Herman Cain, who has never won an election of any kind, was the hot candidate in the GOP field, hitting 30% support levels nationally and higher than that in several states. The GOP pre-primary action has been a non-stop roller coaster with the Republican faithful falling head over heels first for one candidate (Bachmann) and then another (Perry, Cain, Gingrich, and now Paul), so long as the candidate is not named Mitt Romney. The volatility has been enormous. Both Perry and Cain had large rapid surges in support before almost all of their support disappeared just as quickly.

Ron Paul, I think, is a different type of candidate than the others who have flirted with the conservative base of the party this cycle. His support has been fairly steady, much like Romney’s, but has grown of late as the number of undamaged alternatives to Romney shrinks. If Gingrich  becomes the latest one to play Humpty Dumpty, Paul is likely to be one of the prime beneficiaries.

A survey of how supporters of Gingrich, Romney, and Rick Perry respond  to positive and negative ads for their candidate as well as for other candidates demonstrates Gingrich’s vulnerability. The survey by Evolving Strategies indicates that nearly half of Gingrich’s supporters might abandon him after seeing a tough negative ad. The study suggests Romney would benefit from a  Gingrich decline, but did not test how much Ron Paul would benefit.