- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2011

While other candidates are dominating headlines in the Republican presidential campaign, Ron Paul is quietly commanding a campaign that’s showing a level of maturity in fundraising and performance that was lacking four years ago.

The 12-term congressman from Texas has raised nearly double the amount of campaign cash he had at this point in 2007, and in his second-place showing in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll, he garnered nearly four times the support he had last time, falling just shy of knocking off Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota in her own backyard.

Overall, some supporters say that Mr. Paul has already won by forcing several of the top-tier GOP contenders to move closer to him on the issues. But this time around, the 75-year-old also is doing a much better job of turning those issues into a credible bid for the country’s top office.

“We have a lot more supporters and a lot more organization,” Mr. Paul said in a recent interview with The Washington Times at the Iowa State Fair. “I think the campaign team is a lot more sophisticated, and they know what to do out here. We had a lot of enthusiasm four years ago, but we didn’t know how to organize it and direct it. We didn’t really know how this system worked. So, we should do better and we should expect better.”

The Paul campaign also claims to have honed electoral strategy, swapping out the 50-state plan it employed four years ago in favor of a “laserlike” focus on Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada — home to the first three contests of the nomination process.

Grass-roots supporters have returned from the 2008 campaign, which for many of them marked their first foray into politics. Since then, many of them have gained additional political experience through their involvement in the tea party movement as well as local, state and national elections.

“The grass-roots activists are greater in number, and they’re also more seasoned,” said Jesse Benton, a campaign spokesman. “They have a greater understanding of the right things to do to influence people, to influence their neighbors, and be effective in the process.”

In addition, Sen. Rand Paul, a tea party superstar from Kentucky, is going to bat for his father in public appearances and television interviews, giving the 75-year-old a powerful political surrogate and “symbol to activists around the country that these ideas can win, and, if we do the right things and work hard, we can have victory,” Mr. Benton said.

Going into last weekend’s Ames straw poll, the campaign and its supporters exhibited a political savvy that was arguably lacking four years ago. Gone were the fife-and-drum corps that led his small but loud army of followers into the Iowa State University basketball arena in 2007.

Also gone was the suit and tie that made it hard to fit in, replaced with a cotton plaid shirt and tennis shoes. Also gone was the sense that Mr. Paul was a libertarian nut with no hope of winning the poll or the nomination.

“This time around, there is a little less fervor, but more resolve, because people felt they were so close the last campaign,” said Jason Gregory, a 37-year-old warehouse worker from Des Moines and a Paul backer.

Mr. Paul also broadened his message, reaching out to family-values voters who otherwise might shy away from his libertarian views.

In Iowa, he told pro-life evangelical Christians that his championing of liberty has always been rooted in the rights derived from God, including the right to life.

But states, he said, should decide whether homosexuals can marry. He also has vowed to end all foreign aid, including aid to Israel. Last week, he said there’s no evidence that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon, though he conceded that it would be natural for them to do so given the fact that they’re encircled by nuclear powers.

For those stances, Mr. Paul remains anathema to some Republicans.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told reporters he would never cast a vote for someone who believes it is OK for Iran to have a nuclear device.

“Everyone in the house may have a gun, but the 2-year-old doesn’t get one. You don’t let a child have a loaded gun and expect it is going to turn out well,” Mr. Huckabee said.

Asked whether he could vote for Mr. Paul, Mr. Huckabee said, “Let me just say, I don’t think I’ll ever have that opportunity.”

Some of Mr. Paul’s supporters like that he rankles other Republicans.

“He is not a phony,” said Carol Wilberding, a 67-year-old retiree from Waterloo. “The others many times are self-serving. Some fabricate things and some just outright lie.” She added, “I think they are afraid of him because he upsets the status quo. He doesn’t just follow the party line, and they do.”

Mr. Paul’s campaign style also sets him apart.

At the Iowa State Fair, more often than not, he waited for passers-by to approach, while the rest of the field aggressively, often awkwardly, sought out hands to shake, people to talk to and babies to gaze upon.

“My nature is that I never felt good about going up and interrupting people,” he told The Times. “I feel like I’m violating their privacy. Eventually, people will come your way if what you are thinking is worthwhile.”

Powered by so-called “money bombs” in 2008, Mr. Paul raised $34.5 million and won some straw polls, but that didn’t translate into support in the early primary and caucus states. He won 1.1 million votes, or 5.6 percent of the popular vote in the nomination contest, while Sen. John McCain of Arizona won 9.6 million voters, nearly 47 percent of the popular vote on his way to winning the Republican nomination.

Mr. Paul and his supporters are hopeful that his fortune will change this campaign season. They take solace in the fact that the national dialogue has swung onto his court, with increasing attention being given to cutting government spending, ending the military conflicts overseas and questioning the role of the Federal Reserve.

“There is a revolution going on in this country and you are at the forefront of it,” he told supporters gathered at his tent at the straw poll. “Nobody can stop this revolution — our time has come.”

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