As Paul weighs presidential run, his issues are already being debated

Section:

By Michael D. Shear
The New York Times
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/us/politics/27paul.html

WASHINGTON -- Representative Ron Paul of Texas announced Tuesday the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, saying he anticipated "a much, much more significant campaign" than he ran in 2008 should he decide to become an official candidate for the presidency in 2012.

Speaking at an event in Des Moines, Mr. Paul, 75, said he would decide by the end of May whether to become a candidate and stressed the reasons that he believed he might wield more influence over the shape, direction and conversation of the Republican contest this time around.

"The country is already quite different," Mr. Paul said. "There are literally millions of more people concerned about the very things I talked about four years ago. It is the excessive spending, the entitlement system, the foreign policy, as well as the monetary system."

... Dispatch continues below ...



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As a potential candidate, Mr. Paul, a 14-term congressman, has a larger national profile in 2011 than he did in 2007, when he ran for the Republican nomination as a largely unknown lawmaker. The issues he says are important -- concern about federal debt, spending and the size of government -- are front and center this year. And his passionate libertarian followers are, if anything, better organized as part of the Tea Party movement, which includes more mainstream Republicans.

"I think he'll play a bigger role this time than he did four years ago," said Trey Grayson, the director of the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School. "You can't underestimate someone who has a passionate following who can raise money."

Mr. Paul remains, by choice, at the fringes of the Republican Party's ideology, issuing critiques of the Federal Reserve (he calls the central bankers "counterfeiters") and voting against most legislation that in his view increases the size of the federal government.

He tends to pay little attention to standard political conventions. He is fiercely antiwar at a time when Republicans have typically expressed staunch support for the military efforts overseas. He calls for deep and painful sacrifices by important political constituencies.

Surveys suggest that Mr. Paul's support remains low. In most recent polls, Mr. Paul receives just over 5 percent of the support from potential Republican voters. That is similar to the level of support he received in contests four years ago, when he served mostly as a foil for discussion during the debates.

Mr. Grayson, who lost a bid for the Republican Senate nomination in Kentucky to Mr. Paul's son Rand, said he did not believe that Mr. Paul would win the nomination. But he said the Tea Party energy "is going to be very helpful, especially in a caucus state like Iowa, where it doesn't take many votes" to win.

In the 2008 campaign, Mr. Paul's message of fiscal discipline, harsh spending cuts, and dire warnings about the deficit seemed out of sync with the relative affluence through most of 2007. Now the debate consuming Washington is about the issues that Mr. Paul cares about: the debt, the deficit, and the consequences of failing to shrink government.

Drew Ivers, a member of the state central committee of Iowa's Republican Party and the chairman of Mr. Paul's Iowa leadership team, is convinced that this year could be different.

"Ron Paul finds himself right in the center of the three or four or five of the most critical and controversial issues in our nation today: The spending. The war. The financial crisis," Mr. Ivers said in an interview Tuesday. "That's how snowballs develop, you know. They start small, and they get bigger as they roll downhill."

During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Paul proved to be a better-than-expected fund-raiser, but he did it late in the game. In December 2007, just days before the Iowa caucus, Mr. Paul raised $6 million in a one-day "money bomb" that was timed to coincide with the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. This year, Mr. Paul would most likely tap into his donor base much earlier, giving him the opportunity to advertise on television throughout the primary season.

He could also be helped by less competition for donor dollars than in 2007, when he was competing against a field of a dozen Republican candidates, including several with deep pockets or a proven ability to raise millions.

Mr. Paul also won't have to spend so much time in this campaign explaining who he is and what he believes. When he started his bid for the Republican nomination in January 2007, he was a little-known member of Congress. A Washington Post poll in February 2007 put him at just 1 percent, if the vote were conducted then. Four years later, Mr. Paul's poll numbers remain low, but his participation in the 2008 debates and his frequent appearances on television have kept him in the news.

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