With polls showing Ron Paul within striking distance of Newt Gingrich in Iowa and climbing in New Hampshire, the Texas congressman told reporters Wednesday that his campaign's momentum was building at just the right moment and said his rise was beginning to dispel questions about his electability.
"When people join our campaign, they rarely leave," Paul told reporters after a visit to the Homestead General Store and Deli in Amherst on Wednesday morning. "They are real solid determined supporters; they understand what the message is about and they agree with that. So I think [the polls are] a very good sign – in political terms it probably means that we're peaking at the right time."
He noted that while many of the other GOP candidates this year would "shoot to the top and then drop back rather rapidly… ours has been very, very steady growth."
Though national polls have shown the 76-year-old congressman in a distant third place to Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Paul is proving to be a serious threat to both men in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Paul placed a distant fifth in the 2008 New Hampshire primary when he garnered 7.7% of the vote, but polls show that his efficient effort here has managed to more than double that support. A Time/CNN poll conducted earlier this month showed Romney with 35%, Gingrich with 26% and Paul with 17% in the Granite State.
Paul's campaign is also advertising heavily in Iowa and New Hampshire, rolling out an ad in the Hawkeye Stateaccusing Gingrich of "serial hypocrisy" that is the hardest-hitting spot of his campaign this year. The Texas congressman laughed Wednesday when asked about Gingrich's call earlier this week in Windham, N.H., for Republicans to stay positive to avoid weakening the eventual Republican nominee.
"Pointing out people's positions is not negative," Paul said. "If you go after people and you distort information and it becomes personal, that can be construed as negative. But if the media won't talk about a person's record, I think the candidates have a responsibility to point out, 'His position used to be this.' What's wrong with that? That's what campaigning is all about."
In this week's New Hampshire swing, hundreds of supporters and undecided voters turned out for Paul's town hall style meeting in Peterborough on Tuesday night. During the question-answer session, Paul said his first move as president would be to bring home U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"You can send a powerful message to the world that we're done doing all this stuff overseas – stop the drones, stop the bombing, bring the troops home," he said. "Let all our military come home and spend their money at home, which would be a stimulus for us."
Because of some of those controversial views on foreign policy, Paul has yet to show broader national appeal beyond the early states that could match that of Gingrich and Romney. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News Survey shows that Gingrich is now the choice of 40% of likely Republican voters while Romney drew the support of 23%. The other candidates, including Paul, were in single digits.
While Paul's rivals have said they are ready for a nomination fight that could last well into the spring, Paul said Wednesday that he wasn't looking forward to "anything long and protracted." But he noted that one advantage he would have in a long running contest is that contributions continue to flow into the campaign without much work on his part. "I've been in politics a long time, but I never call up people and say ‘Send me some money'; They usually call me up and say ‘Where do I send the money?'"
He noted that four years ago, supporters raised $6 million for him on the anniversary of the Tea Party – a date that is coming up on Dec. 16. "The money comes in spontaneously with these money bombs, so I have a special advantage there and it will hold up."
As for a race that lasts for months, Paul said he was hoping it would be wrapped up "rather quickly": "The organization is fantastic; the question is am I going to hold up," he said.