Is it Ron Paul’s turn to play the role of Mitt Romney challenger?

The Takeaway

The pattern in the Republican Presidential Primary has been nothing if not predictable.

One candidate assumes the mantle of Mitt Romney Challenger, only to fade or fall back to earth, and be replaced by the latest flavor of the month.

First it was Michelle Bachmann, then Rick Perry, followed by Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. Now is it Ron Paul’s turn? Gingrich had been leading in Iowa, but in recent days has seen his support waver as Paul surges into the lead. And while Gingrich maintains an average of a 3 percentage point lead nationally, according to a Real Clear Politics average of national polls, his support there is fading as well in the face of a Paul rise.

This time, as with every other times Paul has run for office, he’s enjoyed a groundswell of grassroots support, from people like Alex Beltramo. Beltramo, an independent game developer in San Francisco, created a campaign called “Slay a Dragon for Ron Paul.” For each player of his new Web-based role playing game “Dungeoneers” who completes the game’s first quest, Beltramo contributes $5 in support of Ron Paul.

“I really wasn’t aware of him until the debates four years ago,” Beltramo said. “I wasn’t ready for his ideas. I didn’t take him seriously. I was still more optimistic in the federal government being able to solve our problems. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I looked at him again.”

About 5,000 have played the game and about half have slain a dragon and asked for $5 to be contributed to Paul’s campaign. Beltramo has a goal of raising $25,000 and is about half way there.

Beltramo said as his confidence in the government declined over recent years, his interest in Paul has risen.

“I think that it shows ground-up solutions, perhaps, are more effective that top-down solutions,” he said.

Benjy Sarlin, a reporter at Talking Points Memo, said Paul has no actual shot of winning, but he could be a factor in the election, all the same.

“The trouble with Ron Paul is he has a very dedicated core of supporters…but for probably about 75 to 80 percent of the (Republican) party, he has a bunch of views that are sort of antithetical, no way, no how. The big area is foreign policy.”

Sarlin said most Republicans believe in a robust military and robust use of that military, whereas Paul’s most important appeal to his core is his isolationist approach.

Another problem, Sarlin said, is Paul’s ties to the fringe, extreme elements of the Republican party, like the John Birch Society and the same part of the party that spawned militias in the 1990s.

“This is very much the scene he comes out of,” Sarlin said. “It’s not easy for him to win, but he can very easily influence the race.”

In short, he could play the spoiler. If he takes votes away from Gingrich, for example, it could provide an opening for Romney. Paul’s been hitting Gingrich in Iowa harder than anyone and it shows as Gingrich’s poll numbers have fallen farther, faster in Iowa than anywhere.

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