Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Aides helping Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with his long-shot run for the Republican presidential nomination never thought they would need more than the corner of a one-bedroom apartment.

They were wrong. The campaign has outgrown its second headquarters, a 348-square-foot office.

Mr. Paul has more campaign cash available than former Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Federal Election Commission records show, and the antiwar conservative has become an Internet sensation.

Though political pros say Mr. Paul’s chances of moving into the White House are between slim and none, some expect him to have an effect on the Republican race.

“I watched the Republican presidential debates with neighbors, and two of the five people in the room said, ‘Who is that guy? I really like him,’ ” said Republican media consultant Tom Edmonds. “My gut tells me he’s a sleeper and will indeed have an impact on the Republican race.”

The Texas obstetrician — whose habit of opposing measures he deems unconstitutional won him the sobriquet “Dr. No” — is admired as a man of principle by many conservative leaders and has won attention from voters across the land, including Democrats.

Iowan Alex Gabis attended an event for Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, in the Fairfield town square last week, but another presidential candidate was on his mind.

“There is a Republican I like — he’s from Texas,” Mr. Gabis volunteered. “I don’t look at the label. I listen to what he says. I think his name is Ron Paul. I like him. I’d vote for him.”

Mr. Paul, who raised most of his campaign dollars in the past quarter on the Internet and has $2.4 million cash on hand, wowed young voters across the country last month when he appeared on Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.”

When host Stephen Colbert introduced Mr. Paul as having voted against the USA Patriot Act and the Iraq war, the liberal audience went wild with cheers. Mr. Colbert asked, “Are you a Republican or are you not a Republican?” Mr. Paul responded: “You’re confused because I’m a constitutionalist. … It’s not that unusual to put those together if you believe in the rule of law, and you believe in the American tradition, and believe in limited government and you believe in liberty.”

Mr. Paul was one of six House Republicans to vote against the Iraq war in 2002.

Commentator Pat Buchanan says Mr. Paul’s effect on the race will depend on the size of the vote he attracts.

“If he starts running up 15 percent or 20 percent of the vote in Republican primaries, it says: The GOP is headed in the wrong direction, secure the border, get out of Iraq, come home, America,” Mr. Buchanan told The Washington Times.

Influencing the Republican stance on major issues is the most likely outcome of the Paul candidacy.

“While I am very skeptical that he will win the nomination, historically challengers’ biggest impact has been in shaping the debate — forcing the more popular candidates to address issues they might like to gloss over,” said Merrill Matthews, resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas. “I suspect Paul’s principled opposition to massive government spending and the war could reach out to two different GOP groups — one large, one not so large — with the message: ‘You are not alone.’ ”

Mr. Matthews sees a twofold effect for Mr. Paul: “His libertarian bent makes him the most principled of the Republican candidates. The large segment of the conservative base shares his rebellion against the GOP’s willingness to become part of Washington’s big-spending establishment. And as the only antiwar Republican candidate, he may provide a safe harbor to conservatives who are increasingly growing dissatisfied with the war.”

Still, even some admirers are skeptics.

“Certainly there is a case to be made for a GOP protest vote in favor of Ron Paul,” said Jameson Campaigne Jr., an Illinois-based director of the American Conservative Union. “But I don’t think small-‘c’ conservative voters dare waste a vote on such a thing — unless the three front-runners in January are all discredited — Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson.”

Mr. Buchanan thinks the Texan is in it for the duration.

“If he stays in the race, he will have a solid, hard-core but small following the whole way through the nomination contest,” the former Nixon and Reagan White House aide said. “He has the money to go the distance because he harbors his resources.”

c Ms. Bellantoni reported from Iowa; Mr. Hallow from Washington.

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