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Will Ron Paul Force Mitt Romney Into a Debate?

After Ron Paul spoke in Sparks, Nevada, earlier this month, observers took note of Mitt Romney supporters crumpling up their Romney signs and vowing to vote for Paul. It was the first time many Republican activists had ever heard Paul speak outside of the several minutes of sound bites allotted to him during televised debates. 

The Paul campaign's recent announcement that he has doubled down on its delegate strategy has made it increasingly likely that Ron Paul will appear at an increased number of state conventions this year. Republican state conventions, such as Minnesota's this past weekend, are increasingly making their way onto Paul's busy speaking schedule. 

As an example, this weekend Paul spoke to an estimated 2,000 Republicans at the Minnesota Republican Convention in St. Cloud. Later in the convention, Republican National Committeeman Jeff Johnson spoke words of unity and praise, perhaps indicative of Paul's ability to win the hearts and minds of the Republican Party. Recent analysis has even shown that Paul has seen his base double.

In Sparks, Paul spoke opposite Josh Romney, the son of Mitt Romney. Many a political strategist will point out, however, that a surrogate is never as effective as having the candidate himself speak. By not attending state conventions, Romney cedes ground to Paul. He also saves face. It's unlikely that the moderate Romney will fare well at a convention next to the conservative Paul. Last week in Arizona, reports indicated that Republican activists went so far as to refer to Romney as "Obama-lite."

With growing discontent for the moderate Romney in the Republican Party and Ron Paul surging, how much terrain can Romney risk losing to Paul? How long will it be before Romney joins Paul at state conventions, prompting impromptu debates?  

Perhaps Paul's "It's the Delegates, Dummy" strategy of focusing on delegates and speaking at state conventions is deserving of more praise than most pundits realized. Paul may succeed at convincing Republican voters to force a head-to-head comparison alongside Mitt Romney.

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