Ron Paul will soon move to Nevada.
Okay, we mean that figuratively. Instead of chasing the other Republican contenders to Florida following the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21, Paul is going west, gambling on a strong showing in the Silver State. His campaign manager, Jesse Benton, says they don’t have the estimated $9 million they would need to vie for sprawling, expensive Florida. “We’re not gonna compete in a state where we can’t fully compete,” Benton says.
The Florida contest on Jan. 31 is winner-take-all, so only one candidate will get the costly spoils. Nevada, like the rest of the states holding their contests in February and March, will award delegates proportionately; that means Paul could pay much less and get much more for a strong second on Feb. 4. According to data obtained by TIME, Paul has spent more money on Nevada media buys this election cycle than any other Republican hopeful—though that amount is still under $300,000.
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Nevada political guru Jon Ralston, who has covered politics there for more than 25 years, says Paul looks poised to make a “greater impact” there than he did in 2008, when he came in a distant second (14%) to Mitt Romney (51%), who holds strong appeal for the state’s large Mormon population. Only Paul and Romney have strong organization in the state, and Paul’s is more professional and streamlined than the last go round, Ralston says. The Paul campaign recently sent out a release to emphasize this point by listing fifteen events, like literature drops and registration drives, taking place there during the beginning of January while Paul’s in South Carolina. His campaign website is filled with pages of caucus-day training and phone banking events being held around the Silver State.
Ralston thinks Paul also holds appeal for Nevadans on a broader scale. “Nevada is to some extent still a very libertarian state,” he says. “That goes across party lines, and Paul is officially is a libertarian running in the Republican party. There’s a lot of resonance there.” Ralston notes that Nevada’s youth participation increased in 2008, which was a boon for Paul then, and young people have been coming out for him in droves this time around, too. Almost 50% of New Hampshire voters under the age of 30 cast their ballots for Paul.
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On Thursday, his campaign sent out another release, this one championing new members of “Hispanics for Ron Paul.” Both the Florida and Nevada races will have pundits buzzing about the Hispanic vote, and the Nevada caucus is Paul’s chance to prove his appeal to that demographic. In theory, he should have some. Hispanics, which make up 26% of the Nevada population, lean heavily Democratic, and Paul tends to attract more independent and left-leaning voters than his opponents. (His plans to end the War on Drugs, bring all the troops home and leave issues like gay marriage and abortion to the states are liberal honey.) In a December survey from Public Policy Polling, 51% of Hispanics said they saw Paul in a favorable light, compared to 25% for Romney.
Paul can also hope that his chances in Nevada will rise as other rivals exit the field. If Mitt Romney takes South Carolina, followed by a solid win in Florida, it’s likely to be time for goodbyes from candidates like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. “The race could be over by the end of the month,” says Ralston. “Who cares then what the results are here?” That is, he acknowledges, except Ron Paul. Nevada fits into the long game that Paul is likely playing, scooping up as many delegates as he can in order to arrive at the convention in August with serious clout.
Meanwhile, making his way around the states will have primed America for a possible third-party run, which Paul doesn’t like to talk about but also won’t rule out.