Paul Campaign Could Gain Traction In Michigan

As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum battle for first place in the Michigan GOP presidential primary, rival Ron Paul is not expected to come in first or second. Paul doesn't really stand a chance at winning the nomination, but he can impact the party's platform

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, tomorrow Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum will seek victory in Michigan, as well as in Arizona. At the same time, Ron Paul is seeking to build up influence. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Nobody thought Michigan was going to be a big deal when the whole primary race got started, least of all Michiganders. Here's the public affairs program "Off the Record" with Tim Skubick, a typical TV talking heads program devoted to Michigan politics. This is what some of Michigan's best political minds were thinking in early January.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "OFF THE RECORD")

TIM SKUBICK: By the time February 28th rolls around, will Michigan's presidential primary be relevant or not, Ms. Demas?

SUSAN DEMAS: Only if Mitt Romney chokes next week in New Hampshire.

SKUBICK: That was not a not or a yes. Please play the game, Mr. Ballenger.

BILL BALLENGER: I'll be bold and say no.

SKUBICK: Yeah?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No.

SKUBICK: And I agree. No. I think this thing is toast. Nobody will care by the time it rolls around.

GLINTON: That was then and this is now. And both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are spending lots of time here. And there's lots of money being spent on ads, most of them bashing Santorum.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Is this dude serious? Fiscal conservative, really? Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling five times, doubled the size of the Department of Education, then supported the biggest entitlement expansion since the '60s. Not groovy.

GLINTON: And who paid for that ad?

RON PAUL: I'm Ron Paul and I approved this message.

KEN SIKKEMA: I think Ron Paul's impact here is not being able to become the Republican nominee for president.

GLINTON: Ken Sikkema is a political consultant and the former Republican majority leader in Michigan's Senate and he says Paul cannot win the nomination.

SIKKEMA: But he has the very high probability of being able to have a pretty big impact in the course of the debate, the Republican platform adopted at the convention and potentially, if you do get into a situation where you have a brokered convention, he has the ability to help influence who the eventual nominee is.

GLINTON: Sikkema says in many ways Michigan is a good place for Ron Paul to get some traction.

SIKKEMA: The depth of support for a Romney or a Santorum in Michigan is not very deep. And these voters have demonstrated the ability to switch sides almost on a dime here.

GLINTON: And to get influence, Ron Paul is spending a lot of time in Michigan, mainly speaking to packed crowds on college campuses and in the cities. Here he is Hudsonville, Michigan in the western part of the state.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

PAUL: Thank you very much. Thank you. I'm so glad to see so many people here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PAUL: Sounds exciting. Sounds like we have something really going right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GLINTON: In Michigan, as in other states, Congressman Ron Paul has gone after voters who have not been a part of the process before. But he has also acted as kind of wingman for Romney, protecting him by attacking Santorum, which Santorum tries to joke about.

RICK SANTORUM: I didn't know that we would have a - they would have picked a president/vice president before the...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: But the coordination that I felt, at that debate the other night, was pretty clear. You know, I felt like, you know, messages were being slipped behind my chair and things like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GLINTON: Ron Paul has denied the allegation that he's having a bromance with Romney. He points out they agree on almost nothing, but he also says attacking Romney is not his objective.

PAUL: Because I think I'm competing more, right now, with Santorum because, you know, is who's the anti-Romney candidate? And right now, the anti-Romney candidate is Santorum, so I have to get his votes, as I did at one time with Gingrich.

GLINTON: Several candidates have tried to take the nomination away from Romney by running to his right - they've all wanted Paul to get out of their way. But Paul continues with his own vision and advancing his own cause. And Ken Sikkema says a drawn-out nominating process serve Ron Paul's ultimate goal.

SIKKEMA: And as long as this Republican contest continues to be without a clear winner, Ron Paul has more and more impact.

GLINTON: Because for Paul, the victory is not winning from week to week or at the convention, but the longer-term struggle to define what it means to be a conservative.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Grand Rapids.

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