NASHUA — Ron Paul said he's ready to beat Mitt Romney — and show him what a real conservative looks like.
Paul criticized President Barack Obama and his fellow Republicans in equal measure at a rally yesterday in an airplane hangar in Nashua.
With son Rand Paul at his side, he spoke for 15 minutes to a crowd of several hundred supporters who chanted his name.
"All my opponents support the status quo," he said. "Americans are frustrated and see leadership of both parties doing nothing. This is not a state that likes big government."
Paul said he believes he can beat Romney in New Hampshire, despite the polls.
"We did very well in Iowa and we're predicting we're going to do very well on Tuesday," he said. "A lot of people don't even decide until the day of the election. There's room for change. Message is what counts and our numbers are growing."
Paul may not be wrong to be hopeful. He has more than doubled his support in New Hampshire since 2008 and is solidly in second place heading into Tuesday, according to Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.
"We've always had a libertarian streak in New Hampshire," he said. "And Paul's managed to expand the base of his voters to include not only libertarians, but also some moderate and liberal Republicans who are attracted to his message. People like Ron Paul because they don't feel at home in either party, and they see him as a true maverick and a true independent."
But Scala said Paul has not campaigned very aggressively. He took a few days off after the Iowa caucuses and only flew back into New Hampshire yesterday.
"It's puzzling," Scala said. "Sometimes it doesn't seem that Ron Paul cares all that much about whether he's the nominee of the party or not. I think his goal is to change the direction of the party and make the Republicans a true small government party with much less intervention overseas."
But Paul supporters are optimistic. Rep. Andrew Manuse, R-Derry, has been very involved in the Paul campaign locally and said it's wrong to discount him as a threat to Romney.
"I think he could surprise us all and come in first, but he'll definitely come in second or third," Manuse said. "I think people are sick of the big-government Republicans as much as they are of the big-government Democrats and Ron Paul is a departure from that."
At the rally, long-time supporter Shem Kellogg, 29, said he has been to many events, but the one yesterday was the largest he's seen.
"It's like he's finally getting the attention he's deserved," Kellogg said of Paul. "It's been a struggle. He's having a hard time reaching out to new people, but he's been consistently second in New Hampshire."
Paul supporters are a different breed of Republican, according to Scala. If he doesn't win the nomination, they may not vote the party line.
"It's possible some of his supporters would vote Democrat rather than Republican if he doesn't win," Scala said. "If he decided to run as an independent or third-party candidacy, he could be a real danger to the Republican nominee. It would be like Ralph Nader back in 2000. I think he could do well enough to throw a wrench into the works."
If Paul loses the nomination, Kellogg said he can't see himself voting for Obama. But Romney and the other candidates don't appeal to him either.
"All the candidates are very similar to Obama," he said. "They all support interventionist foreign policy, the bank bailout and gun control. I don't identify as Republican. It's more about the message I get from Ron Paul."
Carla Mora, 40, of Plaistow said if Paul doesn't win, she'll write his name onto the ballot anyway.
"I would not support Romney," she said. "I believe Romney and Obama are the same."
Paul said his opponents should be wary.
"Some of my opponents have labeled us," he said. "They call us dangerous. And, in a way, we are, to their empire. They're in danger of being routed from the system."
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