Rep. Ron Paul greets supporters in Dubuque, Iowa, last week. Paul has surged past his rivals to take the lead in the state.

Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer
Tuesday, December 27, 2011

GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul is barreling into Iowa and New Hampshire with surprising strength as the first 2012 presidential contests approach – a position that comes, in part, from the unconventional ground games and fundraising strategies being waged by impassioned supporters like Alex Beltramo.

Beltramo, 44, a San Francisco game developer, recently unveiled his plan to raise money for the Texas congressman by donating $5 to the Paul campaign for every player who slays a dragon – no kidding – in his online game called “Dungeoneers.”

So far, 1,000 supporters have done the deed, and Beltramo said he hopes to raise as much as $25,000 with fellow dragon-slaying Paul fans.

“For a long time, the media perception was that (Ron Paul) was extreme or kooky, and they didn’t want to talk about him,” said Beltramo, a longtime independent voter who is changing his registration to Republican to cast his ballot for Paul in California’s June primary.

“I really like that he understands the economy and, in terms of foreign policy, he is the only one who is not wearing blinders regarding the costs of the military,” Beltramo said. “Newt Gingrich calls himself a historian, but Ron Paul is the only one who learns from history.”

Surging at the right time

With just days until Iowans hit their Jan. 3 caucuses and New Hampshire holds its primary Jan. 10, the efforts by grassroots supporters like Beltramo are forcing pundits to recalculate the political landscape. Paul has surged to the front of the GOP pack in Iowa and has advanced against Romney’s lead in New Hampshire.

“What are Republican primary voters looking for? Consistency,” said Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin of San Francisco, as he surveys the field of GOP front-runners that has shifted from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to Rep. Michele Bachmann to Texas Gov. Rick Perry to business mogul Herman Cain and lately to former House Speaker Gingrich.

Now it is Paul’s turn at the top – a position that Tulchin said isn’t so surprising, especially with his appeal to the growing ranks of independent or decline-to-state voters.

Paul’s loyal followers – many of them young and independent-minded like Beltramo – are drawn to their candidate as the rare politician who can be counted on to give unvarnished, even potentially unpopular, answers to questions, Tulchin says.

Appeal to independents

Libertarian-leaning voters particularly celebrate that Paul “speaks truth to power,” appears to stand against big government and government spending, and is outspoken in opposition to foreign wars and interventions, he said.

Tulchin’s latest poll shows that independent voters in California are generally “younger, they’re college educated … and there’s less adherence and allegiance to mainstream institutions and parties.”

That’s why Paul appears to be resonating with them, Tulchin said.

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