The latest step in Rep. Ron Paul's long-ball, 50-state strategy looks like an animated semi-truck, honking and barreling through Minnesota's TV airwaves.
Paul's campaign today announced a "substantial" purchase of airtime in the mostly ignored caucus state of Minnesota, the site of Paul's 2008 counter-convention as Sen. John McCain received the GOP nomination. The purchase is another installment in Paul's plan to seize caucus states where other candidates haven't campaigned, and it follows airtime purchases for four separate TV ads in Nevada, announced in October.
Paul has already spent money on direct mail in the caucus states of Nevada, Maine, Colorado, North Dakota and Washington, as well as Louisiana, ABC's Jonathan Karl reported this month.
The Minnesota GOP could not confirm that any other candidate is running TV ads in the state.
The ad promotes Paul's rebel image as a slasher of government agencies who will stand up for his views, unlike other politicians, who wimp out "like little Shih Tzus."
The ad is slickly produced and, thanks to an electric-guitar soundtrack and a deep-voiced narrator, it sounds like a promo spot for classic-rock radio, or a TV commercial for a monster-truck rally. Government agencies explode-evaporate onscreen. The words "Later, bureaucrats. That's how Ron Paul rolls" are spoken.
Minnesota won't hold its caucuses until Feb. 7, after South Carolina, Florida and Nevada have voted. So why is Paul buying ads there already, when other candidates are laying groundwork in the earlier states?
Paul's is the only campaign that is overtly as concerned with delegates and long-term gains as it is with early-state wins and popular momentum. Like Barack Obama in 2008, Paul's strength lies in dedicated followers who know the rules and can organize at caucuses and the county, congressional-district, and state conventions where caucus states will select their delegates to the August Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
"Ours is the only campaign with the resources, organization and stamina to defeat establishment candidate Mitt Romney in a 50-state race," Campaign Manager Jesse Benton said.
Fresh off a $13-million quarter of fundraising, Benton might be right. As early states go, Paul's campaign is betting on Nevada, ABC's Jason Volack reported this week. Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have consumed the attention of Paul's rivals.
Paul can win something else with this strategy, even if he falls short of the nomination: a voice at the GOP convention and a say in the party platform.
In 2008, Paul was shut out of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., and said that GOP officials told him he would have to be accompanied by a chaperone if he set foot in the building. So Paul held a parallel counter-convention in Minneapolis, drawing upward of 12,000 of his disillusioned supporters to the Target Center.
This time around, if Paul wins the majority of delegates from five states, he will qualify under GOP rules to have his name read aloud as a candidate for the presidential nomination, when the vote is taken in Tampa. Paul's share of GOP support has grown since 2008, and it's possible Paul could earn a prime speaking slot.
If Paul doesn't win the nomination, his campaign is plotting a backup strategy, ABC's Volack reported: accruing enough delegates to use them as a convention bargaining chip, in exchange for a say in the official GOP platform. Paul-inspired platform planks could include auditing the Federal Reserve or allowing Patriot Act provisions to expire, two of the candidate's top issues.
The GOP race won't officially be over until late April, at the earliest. Given how states allocated their presidential delegates, a candidate would have to run the table completely to win a majority of the 2,286 delegates needed to win the nomination by then.
Minnesota will send 40 delegates to the August convention - more than every early state except Florida (50) - but none of them will be bound to support any candidate. They'll be selected through local, congressional-district, and state conventions held later this spring, meaning that to win Minnesota a candidate will have to organize early and elect representatives to those conventions on caucus night.
So far, Paul appears to be making the strongest play for Minnesota's votes.