Despite a dearth of headlines, Ron Paul placed second in the Des Moines Register poll of Iowa voters over the weekend, marking a six-point climb since October. We’ve said it a few times before, but Paul’s quiet rise is worth watching.
Culling the crosstabs, one can see that while Newt Gingrich dominated the “brain” categories–voters rated him the most experienced, most knowledgeable about the world and the best debater–many of the hearts in the traditionally activist Iowa electorate lie with Paul: 24% said he was “the most principled” candidate and 32% named him “the most fiscally responsible,” more than any of his rivals in each category. Paul was also second to Michele Bachmann for “most socially conservative,” far from an inconsequential consideration in Iowa. He also has a real organization in the state and notched a double-digit showing there in the 2008 caucuses, areas where Gingrich remains unproven.
There is some evidence that Paul’s appeal is limited: only 7% named him as their second choice, less than near-afterthoughts Rick Perry and Herman Cain, and less than half the tallies of fellow top-tier competitors Gingrich and Mitt Romney. But if the Republican primary has proven anything to date, it’s that the field can realign itself dramatically in a month. Paul seems as well poised as any at this point to perform in Iowa.