Ron Paul's not as big of a joke as people think.
Do I think he has a serious chance at the Republican nomination? Not really. But I think he could play a much bigger role in the race than people might expect. Consider some of these recent poll numbers:
-In Iowa Paul's net favorability with GOP voters is +38 at 55/17. The only Republican more popular with the base than that in the state is Mike Huckabee. Paul's numbers trump Tim Pawlenty (+32), Mitt Romney (+30), Sarah Palin (+29), and Newt Gingrich (+21) as well as a cadre of other less well known candidates. Paul has part of the same problem Palin showed in her polling earlier in the year- a disconnect between the extent to which people like him and their willingness to spend their vote on him- but those are still some pretty good numbers.
-On our 'main' ballot test in Iowa Paul gets 6%, tying Pawlenty and slightly edging Michele Bachmann's 5%. In a field without Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin- something entirely plausible- Paul gets 16%, putting him in third place in the state.
-It's a similar story for Paul in New Hampshire. His favorability there is +32 at 53/21, putting him behind only Romney. He does better than Pawlenty's +20, Huckabee's +12, Palin's +12, and Gingrich's +9,
-Paul gets 9% on our 'main' ballot test in New Hampshire, besting Palin's 7%, Pawlenty's 4%, and Bachmann's 3%. Paul gets all the way up to 18% in a Huckabee/Palin/Trumpless field there, finishing second only to Romney.
There's been endless jabber today about the impact of Haley Barbour not running but I honestly think in the long haul Paul will pick up more support than Barbour ever would have and that he will pick up a lot more support than many of the other folks sucking up the media air as well. He probably won't win the nomination but with a weak field that the Republican base is unenthused about I bet he'll be a much bigger player this time around than he was in 2008.