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Is Ron Paul getting too much media attention?

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Stephan Savoia/AP

(Read caption) GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul is swarmed by members of the media after visiting a restaurant in Manchester, N.H., on Monday.

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Ron Paul followers have long complained their guy does not get enough media coverage. They echo the words of comedian Jon Stewart, who last August pointed out that reporters generally ignored Representative Paul following his second-place finish in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll. “How did libertarian Ron Paul became the 13th floor of a hotel?” Mr. Stewart asked on his “Daily Show.”

Well, Paul’s the main lobby now. A media horde follows him everywhere. Is he getting too much press attention – so much that it's interfering with his ability to get out his preferred campaign message?

On one level, the answer to that is obviously “yes.” Paul’s appearances over the past several days in New Hampshire have been jammed, to the point where one crucial stop degenerated into chaos.

Paul seemed “overwhelmed” by the madness at a morning event at Moe Joe’s diner in Manchester on Monday, according to CNN political reporter Dana Bash.

Paul circulated some in the room, but eventually he and his wife, Carol, were forced to retreat because of the media scrum. Cameras followed them outside and surrounded their black SUV. One voter pounded on the vehicle’s windows, pleading for Paul to come back inside. A heckler called Paul “chicken” and played the chicken dance song on portable electronic equipment.

“The scene rendered Paul’s SUV immobile for about 5 minutes – until his security was forced to move everyone out of the way,” said an ABC News account of the incident.

Paul’s campaign apologized for the incident in a post on his website. The statement noted that Mrs. Paul got shoved by a cameraman and claimed that 120 reporters had created a moblike atmosphere.

“The campaign had planned to cover our normal degree of media interest, which is always ample. However, a significant increase in the press corps, largely driven by an influx of foreign journalists, exceeded all expectations,” said the Paul statement.

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Should Paul really be blaming this on “foreign” journalists? And were they foreign in the sense that they’re from another country, or are they fresh troops reassigned from the Bachmann beat?

Anyway, the real point is that this is a bad time for Paul’s campaign machine to develop problems. Monday was the last campaign day in New Hampshire, where Paul is projected to finish in second place, and meet-and-greets have been crucial to Paul’s appeal everywhere.

As New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver notes on Tuesday, Mitt Romney’s and Paul’s share of the vote has remained stable in a volatile year – in part because of the skill of their organizations.

“Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul have built the best field operations in New Hampshire and other early-voting states, many Republicans say,” writes Mr. Silver on his FiveThirtyEight blog.

The harsh scrutiny of the media could be damaging to Paul on a more abstract level, as well. The press is like a searchlight: It has a narrow focus, but when it shines on you, it can be blinding. In recent weeks, media reports of racist language in old newsletters printed under Paul’s name have angered his campaign and reminded voters of an old controversy involving the libertarian.

Reports have also focused on Paul’s refusal to completely disavow any intention to run as a third-party candidate, or his refusal to promise to support any eventual Republican nominee in the fall. This has caused some conservatives to begin to grumble about Paul’s continued participation in the GOP process.

“Having thus used the GOP’s brand and standing to hoard a metric ton of attention for himself, the very least he could do, even if he could not bring himself to promise to support the eventual GOP nominee, would be to promise not to run against the GOP’s nominee under the banner of some other party,” wrote contributor Leon Wolf on the conservative RedState blog on Monday.

Meanwhile, Paul is continuing to do OK in polls. A new CBS survey finds a hypothetical race between Paul and Barack Obama as a statistical tie, with Paul the choice of 45 percent of respondents and Obama the choice of 46 percent. Among Republican candidates, only Romney does better: He leads Mr. Obama 47 to 45 percent in CBS’s findings.

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