In December 2007, a Republican congressman from the state of Texas was in dire need of some publicity. So his supporters launched a blimp. The blimp--which read "Who is Ron Paul? Google Ron Paul"--flew over Walt Disney World for a week and managed to stay afloat for more than a month.
The blimp alone didn't bring Ron Paul into every home in America. But it didn't hurt. In the fall of 2007, 60 percent of Americans had never heard of him. By late 2011, that number had dropped to 15 percent. If he wants to make a real run at the White House in 2016, Ron Paul's son Rand may need some of that blimp magic.
A new poll shows that 39 percent of Americans haven't heard enough about Rand Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, to form an opinion of him. That's down from 42 percent at the end of May, but just outside the margin of error of 2.2 percent. Of those who have heard of Sen. Paul, 31 percent have a favorable impression, and 28 percent unfavorable.
Paul's numbers slightly contrast with those for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: 34 percent of Americans say they have not heard enough about him. That's a massive improvement over October 2011, when that number was 59 percent. The vast majority of people who learned about Christie during that time seem to have wound up with favorable impressions of him, as his numbers moved from 23 percent favorability in October 2011, to 45 percent favorability in July of this year.
It's not likely that Paul can hope for a similar level of success in persuading people who know him to like him. Since May, his unfavorability has risen from 24 percent to 28 percent as more Americans have formed opinions about him.
And while it may not be the notorious Santorum Google problem, it still isn't quite so easy to boost Paul's popularity by just following the orders of the blimp. For example, if you were to search for him today, the first three Google News results you'd find are about the controversy related to his aide who was formerly a radio host known as the "Southern Avenger." The images you see are of a man in a Confederate flag face mask. Still though, a lack of knowledge about the senator could mean that he has room to grow, especially as he tries to paint a more moderate image of himself in advance of a possible presidential campaign.
In a potential Republican primary, Paul's numbers may not even have to move too much. Right now, he has 54 percent favorability among Republicans, with 7 percent unfavorable, and 38 percent not knowing enough about him. Christie, on the other hand, has 55 percent favorability among Republicans, with 12 percent unfavorable. Christie is still blowing Paul out of the water among independents and Democrats and in head-to-heads against Hillary Rodham Clinton. But in closed primaries, that may not particularly matter.
The best thing about the new poll, though, is the data on a race that will likely never happen: Vice President Joe Biden versus Rand Paul. According to Quinnipiac, if we were to be gifted with the most entertaining political campaign in modern American history, the two are locked in a 42-42 dead heat. But our Web traffic in all likelihood won't be so lucky to see this come to fruition.