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Politics

GOP hopeful floats on despite odds

Ron Paul is far behind in presidential polls, but a go-it-alone style endears him to backers.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published October 15, 2007


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Though a registered Republican, Ron Paul is considered a libertarian. He was the Libertarian Party's nominee for president in 1988, winning 432,000 votes. His guiding philosophy is libertarian principle No. 1: If it doesn't say so in the Constitution, don't support it


When the GOP's nine presidential hopefuls lined up to debate in Detroit last week, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani were funneled to the center of the auditorium.

Next came John McCain, followed on either side by a congressman from California, the former governor of Arkansas and a senator from Kansas.

At the end of the stage, almost out of sight, organizers tucked in Ron Paul, a gaunt, grumpy, 10-term congressman from southeast Texas.

None of it was by accident.

Paul, a 72-year-old pro-gun, antiabortion, antiwar, anti-Medicare, libertarian-leaning constitutionalist, should by most objective measures be a presidential afterthought by now.

National polls place him in the GOP's bottom tier, with between 1 percent and 2 percent support. His base partly consists of -- in no particular order -- people who want prostitution legalized, taxpayers who oppose paying taxes, a white supremacist running for the Florida state House, and those who think the Sept. 11 attacks were a government conspiracy.

But there's something about the Texas Republican's long-shot candidacy that has attracted a feverish following. He is one of the most popular candidates on the Internet, and raised a hefty $5-million from July to September.

And he is the only Republican candidate who consistently and openly opposes the war in Iraq.

His patchwork of supporters call it the Ron Paul Revolution. Its leader is a great-grandfather and obstetrician whose stump speech can resemble an economics lecture, not graceful oratory.

Who is Ron Paul?

Ron Paul was born in Pennsylvania, attended medical school at Duke and was first elected to Congress in 1976. Before this year, most people had never heard of him.

Paul Bourgeois didn't know who Paul was six months ago. Now Bourgeois leads a 216-member Clearwater grass roots group backing the candidate.

The quick courtship, which came without aid from Paul's skeleton campaign, underscores the improbability of Paul's growing national presence.

Bourgeois' Palm Harbor furniture store doubles these days as the impromptu Pinellas campaign headquarters. Patrons can buy a bed, or a campaign T-shirt.

"I've never done anything like this before," said Bourgeois, 35. "But Dr. Paul is the man."

Though a registered Republican, Paul is considered a libertarian. He was the Libertarian Party's nominee for president in 1988, winning 432,000 votes. His guiding philosophy is libertarian principle No. 1: If it doesn't say so in the Constitution, don't support it - which explains why Paul opposes Medicare, for example.

Such views have earned him a cultlike following, particularly online.

"Most Americans are libertarian in what they believe. They just won't vote libertarian," said Andre Morrou, Paul's running mate in 1988. "Ron being a Republican makes it easier."

Paul has 47,251 members on the grass roots Web site Meetup.com, 10 times more than the next closest candidate, Barack Obama, and he has more than 69,000 "friends" on the community network Myspace.com.

Eliminate paper money

People may see Paul as honest because no one who really wants to become president would do or say what he does.

Paul has introduced legislation four times since 1999 to abolish the Federal Reserve. He supports reinstituting a decades-old policy of linking the dollar to gold and silver his personal wealth of $1.5-million to $4-million is largely in gold and silver.

And in June, he introduced a bill that would eliminate the need for paper money altogether. "Individuals acting through the market will determine what is money," he said on the House floor. The bill never got a vote.

"I cringe whenever I hear Ron talk," said Bruce Bartlett, a former Paul congressional aide and Treasury Department official. "But that's part of his charm. It's the thing that validates he's genuine. Clearly, no sensible person who is trying to win would say any of these things."

In Congress, Paul opposes resolutions that try to tell another country what to do. He has been called "Dr. No" for so often being the lone dissenter in the 435-member House. He would not express support for freedom in Hong Kong (426-1), a call for free elections in Azerbaijan (416-1) or Belarus (419-1), nor condemn Kim Jong Il for the North Korean government's abduction of foreign citizens (362-1).

He voted against awarding a congressional gold medal to Rosa Parks (424-1) and also has fought medals for Pope John Paul II (416-1) and Ronald Reagan (350-8). Paul does not oppose the honor; he thinks the $30,000 expense is a waste.

Serving a House district with a sizable farm industry, Paul opposes subsidies. In a district near the Johnson Space Center, Paul objects to funding NASA.

"There aren't Ron Paul dams and bridges and overpasses across the district," said Kerry Neves, the Republican Party chairman in Galveston County, which is part of Paul's district.

And though his "rugged honesty," as one Republican Party official put it, is endearing him to a menagerie of political misfits and castoffs, it may be trouble when it comes time to run for reelection in the House. Three Republicans are planning to challenge him in a primary, including a former aide who recently called Paul a "nutcase."

Another challenger, Chris Peden, a council member from the Texas town of Friendswood, says Paul's libertarian postures are catching up with him in the conservative cattle ranches of his home state.

"A lot of the grass roots activists here have seen him for what he is now, and they are alarmed," Peden said. "People are really getting tired of it."

Upset or also-ran?

It's hard to measure the popularity of Paul's candidacy. On the Internet, he's a superstar. Anecdotally, he's surging.

But in old-fashioned polling, he's what pundits always thought he would be - an also-ran. History says he has no shot.

"Every once in a while you get someone who's kind of a protest candidate," said Mark Rozell, a presidential scholar at George Mason University. "Ron Paul is a vehicle for people to express their discontent in the Republicans.

"It's a safe protest vote because it seems like he doesn't have a chance to win. But it still sends a message."

Bartlett, the former aide who now lives in Virginia, said he will likely vote for Paul "for old times' sake."

"We may have to wait until there's an honest to goodness real vote before we realize if there's support or not," Bartlett said. "But Ron may be getting his 15 minutes right about now."

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

Ron Paul

Born: Aug. 20, 1935

Party: Republican

Occupation: Congressman, Texas 14th District

Web site: www.ronpaul2008.com

Money raised: $8-million (est.)

Platform: Abolish the IRS, end the Iraq war 

Paul on the Issues

On immigration: No amnesty, end birthright citizenship.

On the war in Iraq: Bring the troops home, no future wars without the authorization of Congress.

On guns: Opposes most gun control measures; believes guns should be allowed on college campuses, national parks and with pilots.

On taxes: Eliminate the IRS and Federal Reserve; supports eliminating the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Education.

On abortion: Pro-life.

 

[Last modified October 14, 2007, 22:02:41]


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