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Supporters of vanquished candidates reflect on GOP race

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Joseph P. Eisele, a farmer in Canton, knows it’s unlikely his preferred candidate will win the GOP nomination for president.

But that’s not stopping him from taking a long drive to see the longshot candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who will rally with supporters today in Ithaca.

“I would certainly like to see him win. It might not happen; it probably won’t happen,” Mr. Eisele said. “But I think it would grow the pool of people that get his message and understand his message if he stayed in.”

Mr. Eisele is just one Republican in the north country whose preferred candidate is not former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. And now that Mr. Romney is all but assured of the party’s nomination, the supporters of the vanquished are holding out for the improbable, hoping to keep Mr. Romney tacking to the right or reflecting on an unlikely surge.

New York Republicans will vote for their preferred nominee Tuesday. New York typically is not the home of hotly contested GOP primaries — its residents usually vote after many other states already have voted and the race has been all but decided.

Rule changes from the Republican Party this year and an unusually long primary season had some wondering whether New York would turn into a battleground. But with the departure of former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., the results on primary day in New York, once again, won’t mean very much toward deciding who will take on President Barack Obama in November.

For his part, Mr. Eisele sees the electorate moving inevitably toward Mr. Paul’s libertarian views.

In 2008, he didn’t take Mr. Paul — a professed strict adherent to the Constitution, a strident critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the departure from a gold-based currency — very seriously.

But by 2012, he was a passionate supporter, and so are many of his friends, some of whom will make the three-and-a-half-hour trek with him to Ithaca to see their ideological standard-bearer speak.

“I think that he is the only candidate that sees the big picture in regard to what’s wrong with the country, at the core level, and truly how to fix it,” Mr. Eisele said.

But with the departure of Mr. Santorum from the race, Mr. Romney is the all-but-certain nominee. He has launched a vice presidential search committee, for example. President Obama’s campaign has trained its rhetorical fire at Mr. Romney and Mr. Romney only. A company that conducts exit polling canceled its plans to canvass Jefferson County polling places after Mr. Santorum dropped out.

But that doesn’t make Mr. Paul’s presence in the race useless. It’s rallies such as the one in Ithaca that will help spur the movement toward 2016 and beyond, Mr. Eisele said.

“As more people understand his message, and give it a chance, I think his legacy is going to be just immense,” Mr. Eisele said.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has all but said he’s in the race to keep Mr. Romney from changing his views and presenting a more moderate vision. A supporter in Jefferson County agrees on that score.

“Newt is absolutely right in saying he has to keep the conservative voice alive and active to keep Romney from correcting too much and going to the center,” said Charles F. Ruggiero Jr., a Jefferson County tea party organizer and the Republican Party nominee for sheriff in 2010. “I understand how important it is to pick up moderates. But you can’t do that by sacrificing parts of your vision that are indicative of what your standards are. If you’re willing to compromise on your standards, how are you going to rule?”

Like Mr. Eisele, Mr. Ruggiero said there’s a chance, albeit a small one, that his preferred candidate could walk away with the nomination, which will be decided in August in Tampa, Fla.

“In football, you have a Hail Mary play. In baseball, you have two outs, bottom of the ninth, a grand slam home run,” said Mr. Ruggiero, who, like the Ron Paul supporter, wasn’t yet ready to get behind a Romney candidacy. “How many times have we seen boxers take it to the last round?”

Mr. Santorum, whose socially conservative bona fides helped him to win the Iowa caucuses and unexpected wins in several other contests, presented the most formidable challenge to Mr. Romney.

His departure didn’t surprise Douglas L. Hoffman, a Lake Placid accountant who ran on the Conservative Party line for Congress in 2009 and 2010.

“Of course, we’re disappointed,” Mr. Hoffman said. “But I think the writing’s been on the wall for a couple of weeks now.”

Mr. Santorum’s poll numbers were dipping in his home state of Pennsylvania, and his daughter has health issues.

Given the large financial edge that Mr. Romney had over Mr. Santorum, and the fact that Republican Party leaders had coalesced around his candidacy, Mr. Santorum’s string of victories and close calls was improbable; Mr. Hoffman sees Mr. Santorum’s candidacy as a glass half full.

“I’m not so sure I’d count it as a loss. For somebody that had a very limited budget, he did fantastically,” Mr. Hoffman said. “Unfortunately, the guy with the most money shouldn’t be the guy that wins all the time. It’s obvious in our world that that happens.”

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