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Ron Paul's In-It-To-Win-It Strategy Is 'Not Far-Fetched,' Campaign Manager Says

Texas Rep. Ron Paul (right) talks with the his presidential campaign manager, Jesse Benton, backstage at the Republican Party's Iowa straw poll last August.
Charles Dharapak

Texas Rep. Ron Paul hasn't won any of the 23 Republican presidential primaries or caucuses already in the 2012 history books.

He's captured only 29 delegates, just 5 percent of those awarded in contests to date. (Front-runner Mitt Romney has 340 committed delegates, 58 percent of those officially allotted, according to NPR calculations.)

And on Super Tuesday, Paul's caucus strategy took a hit in North Dakota, where he had staked time, hope and money, and where Rick Santorum pulled out a win.

But while Romney, Santorum and Newt Gingrich — or their surrogates, to be precise — continued to bicker over who should drop out, when and why, Paul keeps insisting he's in the GOP presidential race to win the nomination in Tampa.

Far-fetched? Jesse Benton, Paul's national campaign chairman, begs to differ. He spoke with us Wednesday, as Paul prepared to head to events in Kansas and Missouri, which hold their GOP presidential caucuses in coming weeks.

Here's what Benton had to say about a range of issues, from campaign strategy to Iran and the political future of Paul's son, Sen. Rand Paul.

On how the campaign's in-it-to-win-it posture seems highly improbable, given the post-Super Tuesday state of play

It's not far-fetched at all. Most of the delegate projection is simply that, speculation based on how people think delegates will be allotted based on performance in nonbinding straw polls. They're going to be elected through the state convention process. It's our strategy to attack those state conventions, move through that convention process and capture delegates that way .The reporting of delegate attainment is largely skewed by the media right now.

On how the Paul campaign will adjust its strategy of trying to harvest delegates in caucus states now that the race is shifting to primaries with winner-take-all provisions

We're going to have to attack these primary states in a strategic manner. We're going to be looking at Texas [May 29] and California [June 5] where we can pick up big delegates.

On his former rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who vowed to make sure Texas is friendly territory for Gingrich

Gov. Perry doesn't have very much political capital to spend, so we'll see how effective that is.

On the point, beyond collecting money, of staying in long after the nomination race is decided. In 2008, Sen. John McCain reached the delegate threshold in March, but Paul stayed in until mid-June and transferred $4.7 million to the advocacy group Campaign for Liberty.

The money that we're raising, we're spending very, very aggressively to win delegates. In 2008, the whole point was that we thought conservatives and constitutionalists deserved to have a constitutionalist to vote for even down the line. It was largely a party-building exercise. This time it's about real political victory. Dr. Paul is going to stay in this race either until he's the nominee or another candidate has 1,144 bound delegates. We see a brokered convention situation as very likely. There's a real possibility we can block any other candidate from winning 1,144 delegates.

On why Paul has appeared to go easy on Romney during debates, while enthusiastically criticizing the other candidates

I wouldn't read into that. We've had five different commercials that criticized Romney, called him a flip-flopper and a hypocrite. We've sent out millions and millions of pieces of direct mail saying the same thing. Ron answers the questions he's asked in debates. He's been asked questions about Newt and Rick Santorum and Rick Perry primarily.

That being said ...

I think that there is a certain level of mutual respect between Gov. Romney and Ron Paul. I think that both of those two candidates, especially with each other, want to have a certain level of adult conversation about the issues that goes beyond the typical political attacks. Reading much more in that is just speculation.

On how much of Paul's effort and fundraising this year are an attempt to create a scenario for his son, Sen. Rand Paul, to run for president in four years

We won't have money left over. What will be left is the organization, the movement, the lists, things like that. That will be left behind, and that's extremely valuable. Not a pot of money. Those assets are there to try to fight for liberty and Sen. Paul is one of the premier voices for liberty in this country. The assets that we have will always be available for him to use as he sees fit.

On Paul's criticism of his fellow candidates' push for intervention in Iran to disrupt its nuclear program

America should not rush to war with Iran. We need to be vigilant. We need to take reasonable steps to deter them from getting a nuclear weapon.

But this beating of the war drums is disastrous for the Republican Party. If the Republican Party wants to just anoint Barack Obama and hand him keys to a second term, then Republicans can just continue this warmongering.

That's what's going to happen. The American people are very clear: They don't want us going carelessly into another war. Barack Obama is painting himself as a much more reasonable person, who is much more open to peace. We don't believe that. But on the naked politics of it, the appearance, Barack Obama is painting himself as the reasonable person that's much more in step with the American people on this.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.
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