Ron Paul is not expected by most observers to win many, if any, of the Republican 2012 primaries or caucuses. From Day One, his campaign has made it their goal to win enough delegates to be a king-maker for the GOP convention’s nomination process.
One state where Paul had an excellent chance to win was Maine, which held caucuses all week that culminated last night. In the end, it appears Mitt Romney eked out a narrow win, capturing 39% of the vote to Paul’s 36%.
That Paul narrowly lost in a state that went very blue for Barack Obama — the Democrat won 57% of the vote there — in the 2008 general election is no surprise for many of Paul’s supporters. Among Paul’s fans are “Blue Republicans,” voters who have traditionally been Democrats but find Paul appealing.
In Colorado earlier this week I spoke with Jerry Denney, vice chair of the Pueblo County Republicans. Denney told me about his experience with former Obama supporters at the Pueblo County fair, where the Republican booth drew a crowd.
“It was like a confessional,” he said. “So many people came over to talk about how they regretted voting for Obama, and they wanted to tell me their story.”
On Tuesday, at a Denver caucus in a predominantly Democratic neighborhood, I asked registered Republicans whether they had friends who had voted for Obama. All of them said yes. Betsy Welty, a volunteer at the District 2 caucus, and “the lone Republican of all my friends,” said that though her friends had not attended the caucus as registered Republicans, they were not going to vote for Obama this year. When I asked her why, she just said, “the economy.”
Could it be true? Were significant numbers of people defecting from the Obama camp after just one term? I set out to find these former Obama supporters in person. I didn’t have to look far.
In Denver, my UW Election Eye colleague Ilona Idlis spoke with Nick Shoupe and Eliza Fas, both caucusing for Paul, who said they voted for Obama in 2008. They were “enamored” with his excellent speaking skills and “they didn’t want four more years of another neo- conservative in office.”
Over the past four years, Shoupe and Fas came to regret their decision. They noticed the costs of education and housing go up. Then the healthcare bill passed. And the final straw came when President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a section allowing indefinite detention of U.S. citizens if the government suspects them of terrorist activity.
Shoupe started researching Paul and particularly liked his foreign policy — what he saw as a commitment to ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the “War on Drugs.” This, said Shoupe, is why he voted for Obama in the first place. He says he wishes he had been more informed about Paul four years ago.
Here in traditionally liberal Seattle I found Obama-turned-Paul supporters. Jennifer Willoughby, a lifelong Seattle resident and employee at Bishop Blanchet High School, has turned her support to Paul in 2012.
She considers herself a “socially liberal libertarian,” who voted for Obama in 2008 because she agreed with many of his campaign promises.
“I thought he was going to get us out of the war, and stop torture,” she said. “He was a breath of fresh air.”
But Willoughby said Obama has strayed from his promises. Her husband, a longtime Paul supporter, urged her to investigate Paul for herself. At first she was skeptical because she’s never been a registered Republican, and none of the other Republican nominees said “anything that made sense to me.”
“But Paul says the things that are in my heart,” Willoughby said. She sees him as consistent, both in words and actions, citing a voting record that aligns well with his spoken positions.
In Maine, Paul almost knocked off Romney, but he’s in last place overall among the candidates in GOP delegate counts. What will these Blue Republicans, who are as disenchanted with Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich as they are with Obama, do if Paul loses his bid for the Republican nominee?
At least one of them was sure. “I won’t vote at all,” said Eliza Fas.