The maverick congressman running for the GOP nomination, is generating buzz in Minnesota and in the blogosphere.
Starting today, Steve Olson will start driving from his home in Savage to his job in Eagan with a red-white-and-blue "Ron Paul for President" sticker slapped on his rear bumper.
Next Feb. 5, Mary O'Connor might just go to the Republican precinct caucus in Brooklyn Center and cast her presidential preference vote for Paul -- even though she's a member of the Libertarian Party.
And Bob Odden, the Libertarians' chairman in Minnesota, is stoking word-of-mouth among the faithful of his tiny party about a 10-term congressman from Texas who has barely registered on most Americans' radar screens.
"These people who support Paul are very motivated," said Odden, a Minneapolis resident who has run for everything from city council to Congress. "With the Republicans as demoralized as they are, they should be nervous about us. And people better wake up to him."
If the other members of the current field of Republican presidential candidates are nervous about Paul's candidacy, they certainly haven't showed it. But increasingly, members of the chattering class, from mainstream media pundits to the conservative blogosphere, have been waking up to Paul.
Much to the surprise of most political professionals, Paul has been effective in raising money, usually the bane of second-tier presidential candidates. And his performances in the crowded Republican debates has created considerable buzz, spreading virally on the Internet, where clips of him debating have been routinely viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
After O'Connor caught him during one of those debates, she wrote Paul a check for $100.
"He believes what I believe -- in small government and liberty," she said. "And even if he doesn't win, he's getting the libertarian viewpoint out there in the campaign. If enough citizens realize what he's saying, they'll vote for him."
A different era
If his previous run for president, as the Libertarian Party's candidate in 1988, is any indication, not many are likely to. In that race, he received less than one-half of 1 percent of the popular vote.
But 1988 isn't 2007, with a grinding war and widespread economic uncertainty unsettling many Americans. And it appears that Paul's unvarnished libertarianism -- a stew of resolutely anti-war, isolationist, low-tax, anti-immigration small-government policies -- is resonating with at least some of those Americans.
"This government's gone way too far in thinking it can police the entire world, spreading democracy at the point of a gun," said Olson, an information technology manager. "Bush has said some things that sound vaguely libertarian, but, come on, he's spent more money domestically than LBJ did. All of them -- Giuliani, Romney, Hillary -- are big-government, big-statist politicians."
Lively debate on the Web
As fervent as his supporters are in real life, Paul's campaign has really caught fire online, where conservatives, libertarians, as well as out-of-the-mainstream Sept. 11 conspiracy mongers, have been thrashing over his campaign.
They are debating about free markets, the war, taxes and other issues they want him to emphasize. A popular website for conservative commentary banned Paul supporters last week on the grounds they were liberals masquerading as conservatives.
One prominent conservative blogger, the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, has been one of Paul's most ardent supporters.
"There are two reasons for his remarkable success so far: the Internet and the growing sense that this imperial presidency needs to be brought back to the vision of the Founders -- both domestically and abroad," Sullivan wrote last week. "It is no surprise to me that the GOP establishment -- now one of the most powerful forces against individual freedom in this country -- is so panicked by his message."
Odden was hawking that message to dozens of Libertarian Party members and the curious who wandered into the party's fall festival at its storefront on Saturday. Paul handily won a straw poll he conducted.