Ron Paul Takes Campaign to New Hampshire
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's not a presidential election without at least one anti-establishment candidate shaking up the race - think Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader. This week, add to the list Texas Congressman Ron Paul. On Monday, the maverick Republican set a one-day Internet fundraising record, bringing in $4.3 million in 24 hours. Now, he's taking his Web-fueled campaign on the road.
NPR's Robert Smith tagged along in New Hampshire.
ROBERT SMITH: The teenagers at national high school had seen Ron Paul's face before on YouTube, on Myspace, but they all seem to remember different things about him.
Unidentified Man #1: I know he's pro-life and I know he wants to abolish the IRS.
Unidentified Woman #1: We know he's been a congressman for, like, 30 years.
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah. And that he's a doctor.
Unidentified Man #2: He's a hybrid of, I guess, Democrat…
Unidentified Man #3: Democrat and lib... He's - I'd say he's more Libertarian than Republican.
SMITH: It might be hard to believe they're all talking about the same guy - the only Republican presidential candidate who opposes the war in Iraq. And yet there he was, standing in front of a school assembly in a suit and black tennis shoes.
Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas): I've been accused of being too conservative. I've been accused of being too liberal. But the truth is is I have voted according to the Constitution.
SMITH: The pitch for freedom and liberty went over well with these teenagers still living at home. Paul also draws large crowds on college campuses.
Rep. PAUL: They're the backbone of my campaign. If they're not of voting age, I'll go tell their parents.
SMITH: But Paul is seeming less like the underground youth candidate every day. On this trip, he is tailed by TV crews and newspaper reporters interested in seeing the man who raised so much money on the Internet. The cash has helped Paul put on TV ads in New Hampshire and it seems to be helping. Up until this month, Paul has averaged about three percent in the polls.
Andy Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center says his latest poll to be released on Sunday shows that Paul is doing better.
Dr. ANDREW SMITH (Director, Survey Center, University of New Hampshire): I think it'd be safe to say that he will be outpacing one of the national frontrunners.
SMITH: Smith says Paul is still a long, long way from being a frontrunner himself, but he might be able to make a difference in New Hampshire. It's a state that allows independent voters to vote in either primary, and it's long been known to have a Libertarian streak.
Dr. SMITH: This is a state that is conducive to a small campaign by what you would think of an outsider candidate. But to do that, you have to be here. You have to actually campaign.
SMITH: Which is why Congressman Ron Paul spent yesterday dropping in on businesses in New Hampshire and shaking hands on the street.
On a Manchester sidewalk, George Calakolides(ph) recognized Paul from the Internet and he liked his style.
Mr. GEORGE CALAKOLIDES (Resident, Manchester, New Hampshire): His honesty and him being up front. I mean, you ask him a question and he'll just tell you.
SMITH: But that honesty doesn't always win votes. At a restaurant called Constantly Pizza in Concord, the owners nodded along as Ron Paul talked about getting rid of taxes and big government. But they were less receptive when Paul told them that he doesn't totally believe in global warming and said that the government shouldn't regulate fuel efficiency in cars.
Dave Constant wasn't convinced.
Mr. DAVE CONSTANT: He covers a broad spectrum and it's hard to figure out what he's really focused on.
SMITH: Of course, that lack of a single focus is one of Paul's strengths on the Internet. He's got a little something for everyone. The pothead can focus on Paul's stand to legalize medical marijuana; the pro-lifer can take solace in Paul's view that there's no constitutional right to abortion. But could those supporters co-exist in a real-life campaign?
Ron Paul says they can.
Rep. PAUL: So far, nobody's getting up there and putting disclaimers on and say, well, I support Ron Paul except for. They just say, I'm supporting Ron Paul's campaign, which is really supporting the constitution and individual liberty.
SMITH: And regardless of the reason, they are backing it up with money.
Robert Smith, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire.
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