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Ron Paul, muffled by Fox, wows Jay Leno

January 7, 2008 |  8:57 pm

Last week, Mike Huckabee gave up the last half-day of campaigning for the Iowa Republican caucus and flew to Burbank, Calif., to appear on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Next day, Huckabee won.

So tonight, the night before the big New Hampshire primary, Ron Paul tried to pull a Huckabee. He flew all the way across the country for his own second appearance with Jay. And Leno, now a developing political kingmaker, greeted him with a most sympathetic hearing. You can see it on your NBC stations in a couple of hours. Paul's supporters, who financed a new eight-state ad blitz for their man, will be very happy with tonight's program.

It's not easy for a 72-year-old, 10-term congressman from Texas, who once before ran for president on the Libertarian ticket, to get much media attention. He's been polling a long time in single digits. But then a couple of things happened. Paul's thousands of outspoken, fervent followers set a new one-day fundraising record and reaped almost $20 million for him in the fourth quarter, likely more than any other GOP candidate. Then last week Paul came in fifth in Iowa with 10%, a lot better than the 4% of Rudy Giuliani, who'd criticized Paul strongly in an early debate.

But the best thing that happened to Paul in recent days was that despite his $20 million and his 10% showing in New Hampshire polls, Fox News excluded Paul from its Sunday night Republican debate with the big five -- Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Huckabee, Mitt Romney and John McCain. So Paul gets 10% in Iowa and gets excluded, but Rudy gets 4% and sits on the left end of the Fox Box desk. Hmmm.

There was quite an uproar and the New Hampshire GOP withdrew its sponsorship of the debate. Paul supporters, mocking the network's "Fair and Balanced" motto, flooded Fox with protests, calls and e-mails and are organizing a boycott of Fox sponsors. Never one to miss an opportunity, NBC's Leno invited Paul to appear and explain.

Introducing his guest as "a long-shot maverick," Leno said, "I'm trying to figure out why Fox News chose not to put you on."

"You know," Paul replied, "we tried to find that out. But they didn't return our call."

"You seem like a gentleman," notes Leno. "You don't seem like that type. But it seems like you should be kicking somebody's ass right now." [Laughter] [Applause] "You're being extremely polite for something I think you got screwed over, quite, you know, ....

I mean, I might not necessarily agree with you, but I think, as an American, we like to see everybody get an equal shot."

Paul speculates that Fox "didn't want to hear the message. Maybe they're intimidated. Maybe they're frightened. Maybe they don't want to hear the truth. Who knows?"

Leno asks about Romney's slide in the polls and attacks by other GOP candidates. "I'm a little bit afraid that they might be doing that for religious reasons," says Paul. "And I don't like that. I disagree with Romney on some of the issues, and he's gone after me onstage, but that shouldn't be the reason that he doesn't do well."

Paul noted that "nobody's ever accused me" of saying different things to different crowds. "I say the same thing, no matter which ear it is and which crowd it is." Paul corrected Leno that he had not collected all that campaign money but that "we" had: his followers and their 1,400 meet-up groups nationwide.

Paul said after his earlier debate confrontation with Giuliani "when he was confused about what causes terrorism [Laughter] I sent him some books, And I said, 'Please read these books.' But so far it doesn't sound like he's read [them]. He hasn't done his homework." [Applause]

Paul, the only GOP candidate opposing the Iraq war, criticized the Bush administration. "The trillion dollars went to the war," Paul said. "It should be here taking care of our people here at home." [Applause] Paul also noted how all candidates now say they're for change but nothing changes. "To me," he added, "that means the only significant change we ought to have is get enough people in Washington that read the constitution, obey the constitution, do only the things that we're allowed to do." [Applause] To read the entire interview, click here.

Meanwhile, across the country in New York, Huckabee was trying to pull another Huckabee of his own on late-night television, this time on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

-- Andrew Malcolm

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