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Could Ron Paul Win the Iowa Straw Poll?

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Texas Rep. Ron Paul could be a surprise victor in Saturday's Ames Straw Poll. (Associated Press)

Today's Ames Straw Poll is expected to have a winnowing effect on the Republican candidates running for president, but could Texas Rep. Ron Paul, typically considered a long shot, come away from Iowa with a win?

The Washington Post reports:

[T]here is a strain of thinking that Paul could seriously challenge the likes of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty for supremacy on Saturday.

“He’s got the supporter passion of a Bachmann with the organization of a Pawlenty,” said one senior Iowa Republican strategist unaffiliated with any of the campaigns. “He builds on 2007 and the caucus last time, and I think he can turn out the 3,000 votes he needs to win.”

The idea of a Paul straw poll victory — while beginning to be discussed more openly — is still far from expected.

Pawlenty has gone all out — organizationally and financially — to make his mark at Ames, recognizing that if he can’t win or come in a very close second it could very well spell the end of his campaign.

Bachmann, too, is making a major play at Ames — her Friday schedule is packed with five events designed to rally supporters in advance of the straw poll — and, if polling is to be believed, she looks something close to a frontrunner in the Iowa caucuses next year.

Still, Paul shelled out at least $31,000 in the state and has an extremely dedicated and energetic group of supporters -- although it's generally agreed that his chances will be largely based on how many voters show up to the poll. The larger the electorate, the less likely his supporters will be able to dominate the vote.

The campaign is being cautious to play down any expectations.

“Michele is pushing full force, Tim Pawlenty has an expensive team of top-drawer consultants and Mitt Romney, the national front runner, is working hard behind the scenes,” said Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton. “We hope to do well, compete with these big names and finish right there with them in the top four.”

But even with an Ames victory, remote as it may be, Paul would be unlikely to maintain the lead in the race.

“He won’t win the caucuses or be the nominee, but it will be a recognition that Iowans are looking for someone who will offer bold answers on our fiscal crisis,” said one Iowa Republican strategist.
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