Rep. Ron Paul To Test Waters For Presidential Run

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Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who once ran as the Libertarian nominee for president, is establishing an exploratory committee for another bid for president as a Republican. Melissa Block talks with NPR's Mara Liasson.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The presidential campaign of 2012 is slowly taking shape. President Obama officially announced his candidacy earlier this month, and a large, if shapeless, Republican field is bidding for attention.

Today, Texas Congressman Ron Paul announced his first step toward becoming a candidate in 2012: the now familiar exploratory committee. As he considers a third presidential bid, another contender is already bowing out. Yesterday, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour announced he would not be running.

There are many others in varying states of public commitment on the GOP side, and joining us now to talk about the Republican field is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hi, Melissa.

BLOCK: And Ron Paul appears to be running. Again, he got a lot of devoted followers on the Internet last time during the 2008 bid, not so many votes in the primary. So this time around, is he a significant addition to the Republican field or more of an asterisk?

LIASSON: Well, I don't think he's a huge factor in terms of the nomination. In the 2008 GOP primary, he got only about 6 percent of the Republican vote. However, as you said, he does have a devoted following, lots of libertarian-leaning young people. He can raise millions of dollars online in a single day in one of his famous money bombs. So he brings energy to the party, and the Republican Party base seems to have caught up to him on the issues.

The GOP is in a real libertarian moment right now, and Paul has always been all about the debt and the deficit and taxes and spending. You could call him the godfather of the Tea Party.

BLOCK: So he could shift the debate.

What about Haley Barbour? Let's talk about him for a bit. Big fundraiser, a political insider, and he was traveling the early primary states, seeming to do everything that a serious candidate needed to do. Why did he drop out?

LIASSON: That's right. He'd already lined up a campaign manager. He'd gotten commitments from donors. In his statement, he said he didn't have the fire in the belly that was needed to run. But it's also possible that he felt he could not overcome some of his obstacles.

He had been a lobbyist for tobacco and drug companies and foreign governments, and perhaps more damaging, he had made a series of racially insensitive comments. And it's possible he felt that the issue of race, particularly auditioning for a run against the country's first African-American president, would have been a distraction.

BLOCK: What do you think Haley Barbour's exit does to the rest of the field? Whom does it hurt? Whom does it help?

LIASSON: Well, Barbour was only registering in single digits in the polls, so it's not as if he had a lot of voter support that's now up for grabs, but he is an extremely important figure in the Republican establishment. He has a huge Rolodex of funders formed during his years as RNC chair and as a top lobbyist. Everyone will want Barbour's endorsement and access to his network, and help from him as a strategist.

Now, Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor, who's his very good friend and had said he wouldn't run if Barbour did, now the big question is: does it make it more likely that Daniels will get in? Party leaders I talk to say last week they thought Daniels was out. Now, they're not so sure.

So Barbour's absence also gives Mitt Romney, who is the putative frontrunner, if there is such a thing at this point, a clearer path to tying up Republican establishment support if Daniels doesn't get in.

And Barbour's absence also means there's only one Southern candidate right now: Newt Gingrich. And that may make it more appealing for Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas government - governor to get in.

He has yet to lift a finger at all to lay any groundwork, which has mystified Republicans who point to the fact that he consistently runs at the top of the polls in key states, and nationally, Huckabee is the only candidate with a defined base of support, a real constituency among evangelicals, particularly in Iowa, which he won in 2008, and in South Carolina.

BLOCK: Yeah. Mara, let's talk about the controversial budget proposal that was put out by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan. It's been dominating the political debate for a while now. What effect is that having on the GOP and the potential 2012 candidates?

LIASSON: Well, there's already a lot of Republicans who want Ryan to run. He is the intellectual leader of the party right now, and even though other candidates aren't embracing all the specifics in his budget, his budget is the GOP's fiscal platform as of the moment.

He isn't running. He's turned down several invitations to speak at these big Republican dinners in South Carolina and Iowa, where just showing up would create buzz about his future. But Ryan seems happy to lead the Republicans' fiscal fight from right here in Washington.

BLOCK: OK, Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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