Ron Paul Captures 2nd Place In N.H. Primary

As expected, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire primary. Texas Rep. Ron Paul clinched second place — ahead of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Paul told a crowd of supporters that he was nibbling at the heels of the front-runner.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On the morning after the New Hampshire primary, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

Mitt Romney may have gotten the most votes in that New Hampshire primary yesterday. But the award for best party of the night went to the second place finisher, Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

INSKEEP: His fervent supporters chanted and sang into the early hours of the morning, showing the kind of passion that propelled Ron Paul to the best night in his career to date.

GREENE: NPR's Robert Smith was there.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Every candidate has his own soundtrack. When Jon Huntsman walks to the stage he plays "Beautiful Day" by U2. Mitt Romney favors the song, "Born Free." Last night, before Ron Paul's supporters introduced him to the crowd, his campaign played this:

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE IMPERIAL MARCH")

SMITH: The Imperial theme from "Star Wars." The music that heralds the arrival of Darth Vader.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE IMPERIAL MARCH")

SMITH: A few minutes later, when Ron Paul took the stage he was clearly reveling in his new role of nemesis to Mitt Romney.

RON PAUL: But I sort of have to chuckle when they describe you and me as being dangerous.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SMITH: The crowd surges forward, American flags in hand.

PAUL: That's one thing they are telling the truth because we are dangerous to the status quo of this country.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SMITH: Ron Paul is sometimes referred to as a fringe candidate. But not here, not last night. He got 23 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, easily beating candidates like Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich. As Ron Paul told the crowd, he was now nibbling at the heels of the front-runner. The crowd liked those odds.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) President Paul. President Paul. President Paul...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMITH: It's hard to describe the crowd at a Ron Paul event. If I was keeping up the "Star Wars" theme, I might describe it as a certain cantina on Tatooine. But instead, I'm just going to list off some of the people I met. A Navy meteorologist, a Serbian baker, some raw milk activists who run a computer firm, pharmacological engineer, a machinist, a lesbian postal worker. And then there was Ray Verville, who just describes himself as Independent.

RAY VERVILLE: You know, the Independents don't want to vote for anybody if they're not Independent. It's Ron Paul or no one.

SMITH: New Hampshire is the one of those states that lets Independents vote in its Republican primary. And boy did they. There was a flood of them this time. And Ron Paul won among those who declare themselves Independent. He also captured the most votes among people under the age of 30. They all share his philosophy of radically smaller government and personal liberty. And Verville said that already the popularity of Paul is forcing those ideas into the Republican discussion.

VERVILLE: Yeah, you don't see anybody talking about the Constitution the way he does. He's the one who's brought up all of the things that are going on in the debates - the Fed, the bubbles, all that stuff. He's the one.

SMITH: New Hampshire is kind of a sweet spot for Ron Paul. It has a heavy Libertarian tradition. And Ron Paul's been campaigning here for a long time. Four years ago, he got 8 percent of the vote. But yesterday, he tripled that support.

One of his fans, Monica Dean, says the challenge now for Ron Paul is that it's hard to describe his whole philosophy in a simple political ad. It takes a while to understand what he's all about.

MONICA DEAN: It is kind of like a rabbit hole. You start to look into different things. You kind of become obsessed for a good six months in the whole political sphere.

SMITH: You're saying that kind of paradigm shift doesn't happen after a week's campaigning in New Hampshire?

DEAN: Right. Yeah. You have to actually seek it out.

SMITH: But right now Ron Paul doesn't have that kind of time. He'll have to now face primaries that don't give such a prominent role to Independents. And he'll have to convince actual Republicans that his unorthodox ideas can beat Barack Obama. Getting the nomination for Ron Paul is like, I don't know, hitting a two- meter target from an X-wing fighter.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "STAR WARS")

DENIS LAWSON: (As Wedge) That's impossible, even for a computer.

MARK HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) It's not impossible. I used to bulls-eye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They're not much bigger than two meters.

ALEX MCCRINDLE ACTOR: (As General Dodonna) Then man your ships. And may the Force be with you.

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, Manchester.

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