The frown on Kentucky senator Rand Paul's face said it all. A third place finish was not what Ron Paul, his son, and his supporters were expecting Tuesday night. Although Paul finished just four points behind the winner(s) in last night's caucus--doubling his support from 2008--the results just didn't live up to expectations.
When he addressed the crowd at the Courtyard hotel ballroom in Ankeny, Paul put on a happy face, thanking his supporters and touting the fact that he had one of the "three tickets" out of Iowa. But there was a hint of sadness in Paul's voice, a sign things didn't turn out as he thought they would. The polls had shown Paul coming in first or second. While the first third of votes were being tabulated, he was running neck-and-neck with Romney and Santorum. The Texas congressman himself predicted on Sunday: “I doubt if I’ll come in third or fourth.” The entrance poll showed Paul winning Iowa.
So what went wrong? It's certainly possible that the entrance poll was just wrong. But it's also possible Paul lost some support after the poll was taken. Caucusgoers are given the chance to hear from representatives for each candidate, and Paul was a polarizing figure at the precinct I stopped by in Ankeny.
After the campaign surrogates had finished their spiels, a man who said he was leaning toward Santorum rose to lament about having to play the hand he'd been dealt by the Republican party in 2012. "I don't see a face card in the deck," he said. (He later told me his ideal candidates are Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Florida senator Marco Rubio.)
Noting that he'd prefer any of the candidates to Obama, he wanted to hear an explanation of Mitt Romney's flip-flops, Newt Gingrich's alleged ethics violations, and Ron Paul's foreign policy and racism in his newsletter from the 1990s. "I agree with a lot of things Paul says, but his foreign policy bothers me," he said. "I've got some concern, whether it's valid or not, that he'll be attacked on this newsletter issue."
A Gingrich supporter explained that Newt had been cleared of the charges. A Romney supporter said of the former Massachusetts governor: "You have to understand he comes from a liberal area." But before Ron Paul's supporter could speak, another woman, a Bachmann supporter, rose to criticize the Texas congressman's foreign policy. "I heard him say that we had no right to go to Afghanistan," she said. "I know a soldier that was in Afghanistan, and he stands firm and proud that he went there."
Ron Paul's surrogate responded that Paul has more donations from members of the military than any other candidate. "As far as these racial issues that have come out," he said, "I think that is a testament to Dr. Ron Paul. He has such a squeaky clean record that it takes them digging back 30 years to these newsletters--things that he didn't even write. Not only didn't he write them, he's completely turned his back on anyone who wrote anything like that."
The precinct chairman was ready to call a vote. But another man rose to speak against Paul. "Ron Paul has some good things, and some not so good things," he said. "He doesn't want to defend our borders."
"That's not true," a Paul supporter interjected.
"It is," the Paul opponent said. "I heard it myself." He continued to say that Paul believes that if states "want to have marijuana, if they want to have heroin, if they want to have prostitution, they can do that."
"We don't want all that," he said. "I would much rather have Perry than I would Ron Paul."