Three summers ago, Rep. Ron Paul, a white-haired obstetrician, shocked the political world.
The septuagenarian Texan, out of nowhere, stirred an army of youthful libertarians and disillusioned Republicans to support his long-shot presidential bid. He raised millions, rallied thousands, and spooked GOP contenders. But he did not win a primary.
Still, as he relaxes in his Capitol Hill office, Paul reflects on that wild ride with a smile. Tangling with the old guard, he acknowledges, was a bruising, nonstop battle. Same goes for organizing a nationally competitive campaign.
Yet when he recalls spotting throngs of college students, at campus after campus, toting handmade signs and railing against the Federal Reserve, he knows that, in his own way, he won something.
Paul hopes to do even better this time around. Last month, he announced that he would once again seek the GOP presidential nomination. He enters the contest as a nationally known name, a fundraising powerhouse, and most importantly, no longer a fringe figure.
“That is the difference between now and four years ago,” Paul says. “When it comes to practical politics, the face of the party has changed. Any place we go, I get invited to Republican meetings. Before, we had to have our own meetings, or we might have been excluded.
“Now we go, and I think, wow, this is really nice. I get to meet run-of-the-mill Republicans,” he chuckles. “We used to think of that group as the businessmen and the bankers, and all the establishment people that make up the Republican party. When we visit these days, we find out that they look like us.”
Beyond the pockets of Paul supporters popping up in local GOP organizations, polls show the Texan ready to rise. A Gallup survey late last month had him at 10 percent, seven points behind frontrunner Mitt Romney. A CNN poll released that same week had him at 12 percent, just three behind Romney.
Paul, however, shrugs off the numbers. He is pleased with the resonance of his message, to be sure, but he is not rabidly interested in the back-and-forth, the dishing and spinning, that usually accompanies presidential politics.
“People who work for me worry about that,” he laughs. “That not what I care about. Sure, the better the vote, the better endorsement for the policies I think are so crucial. But my job is to try to deliver a message in a better way, to develop a practical approach.”
Indeed, much of Paul’s appeal is that he keeps things loose. “There is no central political planning with this campaign,” he says. “That energizes people. We simply encourage people to get involved, and do it modestly.”
In other words, he articulates bold positions on the Fed, foreign aid, monetary policy, the drug war, and military spending, and then, it is hoped, things snowball.