Backers reflective of Paul’s wild-card status

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Wonder Ann is a big Ron Paul supporter - so much so that during his town-hall meeting here Tuesday she urged him to consider ditching the GOP and running as an independent if he doesn’t win the Republican presidential nomination.

The only problem? She won’t be able to vote for him either way. She says she’s not a Republican or a Democrat, no longer votes in elections, and thinks registering would compromise her privacy and make her a “ward of the state.”

Her reasoning may be unique, but her case is not. Mr. Paul has built a movement based on voters just like her, who reject political parties but desperately want to find space for their voices to be heard within the political process.

Mr. Paul is the wild card in this race, and so far, those dedicated supporters have been strong enough to power him to a third-place showing in Iowa and a second-place showing in New Hampshire. That may also work in South Carolina, where the primary is also open to non-Republicans.

But as the calendar deepens, Mr. Paul’s support will be tested - not only to see if he can continue to attract enough voters to extend his campaign into the later contests, but also to see if his backers are willing to work within the Republican Party to cause the kind of change Mr. Paul preaches.

Mr. Paul, a 12-term congressman from Texas making his third bid for president, has never risen so high. He’s well organized and well funded, and for the first time he’s also well under attack by opponents who sense he may just be dangerous to their electoral prospects.

He says it’s obvious what’s different this time.

“This message is resonating now,” Mr. Paul told supporters. “The country is different, and the world is different. And they’re starting to wake up and starting to realize those things that we had talked about for so long and we were so much aware of - that we have a messy financial system, a messy banking system, we had these bubbles forming - now everybody knows about it.”

His campaign is not shy about highlighting his prescience. It is flooding Internet users in South Carolina with ads proclaiming his prophecies: “In 2012 there was only one presidential candidate who predicted the economic collapse,” says one ad, while another shows speeches of his warnings dating back to 1988 and says he “has been right for decades.”

Paul power

Those prophecies have gained him a devoted base of fans, many of whom went searching for answers - often online - and found Mr. Paul at the end of a Google search.

That’s what happened to Mark Cox, an Air Force veteran who found himself watching a video online several years ago about the Federal Reserve. Concerned about the country’s monetary policy, he looked around to see what people were saying, and stumbled across Rep. Ron Paul.

“He was there; he was the answer,” said Mr. Cox, another voter who does not belong to the GOP, at a rally in Spartanburg, sitting with his mother, whom he converted to a Paul devotee.

James W. Ceaser, a politics professor at the University of Virginia, said Mr. Paul is as much about his ideology as he is about being a candidate himself - and to that extent he’s already accomplished something.

“He’s run before as a libertarian in the party. He’s trying to bring mainstream respectability to this movement, and he’s succeeded. Maybe not full respectability, because in some ways he’s tarnished it, too,” said Mr. Ceaser, pointing to Mr. Paul’s foreign-policy views. “But he’s shown it has more support than anyone previously thought. He’s shown it’s a force to be reckoned with.”

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