Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ron Paul: Fallback Plan?

Ron Paul: Fallback Plan?

As Ron Paul makes hit counters spin and online polls surge, his campaign faces a crossroads.  Clearly something is in the water.  The influx of small and big L libertarians into the GOP to support Paul resembles the Greens who backed Dennis Kucinich in 2004.  Only this group is less digestible, and highly unlikely to support any of the other Republicans.  And just as clearly, Paul's libertarian outlook won't gather a majority in the context of the current GOP.

Thus we see the odd phenomenon of a candidate who is simultaneously a sitting Republican member of Congress and a former third-party nominee.

Ron Paul was one of the Libertarian's more successful national ticket leaders, winning half a percent of the vote against Bush Sr. and Dukakis in 1988.

The Libertarian Party has, to date, eschewed the type of celebrity candidacies that won the Reform Party victory with Jesse Ventura and the Greens' notoriety with Ralph Nader.  They've preferred to nominate unknown party activists like their current crop of candidates.

But with Paul becoming a famous-for-the-Internet persona, will the third party give him a second chance?  And what would that do to his seat in Congress?

The Texas congressional primary is March 4, 2008.  That used to be one of the earliest events on the nomination calendar, but other states have leapfrogged forward to grab an early presidential primary date.  The filing deadline is Jan. 2, 2008 -- before the currently scheduled date of any presidential primaries or caucuses.

Texas law allows a candidate to simultaneously run for Congress and for president or vice president, an option exercised by vice presidential candidates Lyndon Johnson in 1960 and Lloyd Bentsen in 1988.  However, the candidate must run under the same party label for both offices.  Thus, Ron Paul cannot seek re-election as a Republican and the presidency as a Libertarian.  He'll have to choose at least a party by the first of the year.

In other states, Paul may face the dynamic of "sore loser" laws, designed to prevent a defeated primary candidate from running in a general election do-over.  This should prove to be less of a barrier.  In 1980, John Anderson quit the Republican Party in late April race to run as an independent.  He qualified for all 51 ballots, setting many legal precedents in the process.  Ballot Access News reports that other candidates who ran in presidential primaries, and then got on the fall ballot as independents or with other parties, have been Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, Robert La Follette in 1924, David Duke in 1988, and Lyndon LaRouche 1984 through 1992.

The appeal of holding office may not mean much to Paul, with his lone votes and outsider style.  He's already had interruptions in a congressional career spanning 30 years.  His first trip to D.C. was a short one in 1976, when he won an April special election and lost the November general election.  He returned for a six-year stint from 1979 until 1984, when he lost the Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat to Phil Gramm.  He started his current tenure in 1996.  That year, Paul knocked off incumbent Greg Laughlin, a former Democrat who'd jumped parties in June 1995, in the Republican primary.

In the end, Paul may play the role other outsiders have played in the past.  John Anderson led residual northeast liberals out of the GOP at the dawn of the Reagan era, and George Wallace was a way station as Southern conservatives moved from the Democrats to the Republicans.  Ron Paul may be the exit point for small-government Republicans, on their way to… who knows what.

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