He was a distant fourth in Rasmussen’s poll of likely voters this morning, but there’s no way the “Paul surge!” meme is going to die that easily. New fuel for the fire today from Iowa State: A poll of almost 1,000 Iowa registered Republicans has him just above 20 percent, four points better than Romney and just four points back of a guy whose own supporters have taken to dumping him as unelectable on national TV. As Cain fades a bit, Newt starts to come on strong, and Perry gets his second wind, there’s at least a chance here of a five-way split that would let Paul squeak to victory with, say, 25 percent. Look out, fiat money!

Is the rEVOLution coming to Des Moines? WaPo’s Chris Cillizza is bullish:

The most obvious reason is that Paul has been on television in the state since July and has spent more than $1.35 million on ads. (For months, Paul had the airwaves to himself although Texas Gov. Rick Perry is now on television in Iowa as well.)…

And, it’s not just Paul’s television ads that have blanketed the state. Sixty seven percent of those tested in the Bloomberg poll said they had been contacted by the Paul campaign via email, direct mail, telephone or someone coming directly to their door over the last year — the highest percentage for any candidate. (Just 47 percent said the same of Perry, 46 percent of Romney and 41 percent of Cain.)…

“Turnout will probably be lower than in 2008 because there are not the kind of hyper-developed ground efforts like we saw in 2008, 2000, or 1996,” said Gentry Collins, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa. “I think that benefits a candidate like Paul because the depth of his appeal will guarantee him a minimum number.”…

“[Paul] will benefit more than other candidates from our registration rules as independents, Libertarians [and] Democrats can effectively become Republicans for a night and caucus for Paul,” said one veteran Iowa Republican operative. “Anecdotally, I have encountered more than a few self-described liberals who will caucus for Paul due to his anti-war stance.”

Caucusing for Paul as a liberal would be exceedingly stupid, and not just because his ideology is the most antithetical to the welfare state of any candidate in the field. Like I said yesterday, a Paul win in Iowa would greatly raise the chances of Romney being nominated — and Romney is, for better or worse, The One’s toughest opponent head to head. A smart, cynical, calculating liberal would organize an “Operation Chaos” on behalf of Perry, whose favorables have turned toxic but who could still, probably, win the nomination on a wave of Not Romney enthusiasm if he takes Iowa. He’d be easier pickings for Obama in the general, especially if he goes crosseyed again at one of the debates.

Via Cillizza, here’s one of the spots airing in Iowa. Can’t wait for the Ron Paul foreign policy ad. Exit question: Is the Republican field really going to be out-organized and out-hustled in corn country by a libertarian outsider? What’s the point of being establishment if the establishment can be outmaneuvered like that?