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Ron Paul reactivates GOP candidacy, vows to fight this year and beyond

February 21, 2008 | 12:16 am

Wait, hold on! Don't toss those Ron Paul signs quite yet.

The 72-year-old, 10-term Republican congressman has just vowed to continue his current campaiRonpaul_jvugbqnc_3gn for the Republican presidential nomination. There's been some confusion in recent days since Paul sounded like he was, in effect, withdrawing to refocus his political efforts on a well-funded House primary challenger in his home Texas district near Houston on March 4.

His vocal online supporters have been less evident, effusive and at times abusive in the last couple of weeks. But now they have reason to refocus themselves too.

But Wednesday he struck a different note. "I will stay in as long as my supporters want me to," the Texas congressman promised CNN. "And I say as long as the number of volunteers continues to grow, and the money comes in, and there are primaries out there, and they want me to be involved, I am going to stay involved."

And if, say, there's a scandal or illness among the two remaining Republican candidates ahead of Paul in delegates, he'll be in a pretty good political position for the convention in St. Paul.

Also, guess what The Times' campaign finance guru Dan Morain just discovered....

tonight in records of the Federal Election Commission? Of all the Republican candidates left in the field at the end of January none other than Ron Paul had the most cash in hand -- some $6 million. And, like a true conservative, Paul reported not a penny in debt.

So he's got the money to keep his campaign going, despite being at loggerheads on many issues with fellow GOP candidates. And more funds flowing in each day from his loyal followers, despite being largely ignored by the major media, being barred by Fox News from a debate and receiving short shrift in speaking time there.

That's not likely to have much impact in the actual GOP voting, which Sen. John McCain has almost wrapped up. Paul has been drawing in the single-digits recently, getting 5% of the Wisconsin vote and 7% in Washington state this week. He did score a couple of second place finishes, including the Nevada and Montana caucuses, and beat Rudy Giuliani in Iowa and Fred Thompson in New Hampshire.

But his new re-affirmation of an active candidacy will be exciting news for hundreds of thousands of his diverse supporters scattered about the country in some 1,400 meet-up groups that demonstrate for him and raise money in numerous imaginative ways, including hotties 4 Ron Paul pin-up calendars. Their devotion and noticeable online enthusiasm had waned in recent weeks after Paul forced Mitt Romney from the race and then spent more time in his own district.

Starting last summer the seemingly spontaneous assembling of hundreds of thousands of Paul supporters, many new to politics, has been one of the more remarkable aspects of the current political season.

Although the major media have consistently treated him as a fringe candidate, Paul has raised more money recently and outlasted several more famous Republican competitors once given a good chance of winning the nomination.

In December, the Paul campaign broke the online one-day fundraising record by taking in $6 million and made Paul the most successful GOP fundraiser in the fourth quarter with nearly $20 million in donations. And he was the only Republican candidate to increase his take during each quarter of 2007.

So far this quarter, Paul's website reports in excess of $6 million more in donations, which the candidate said he would use to drive what he called a movement. In the CNN interview he portrayed the movement of Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians disaffected with large government and foreign entanglements as unstoppable, although mathematically the 2008 nomination is beyond their reach.

Paul, a former ob-gyn who recently drew a crowd of 1,400 at North Texas University, said he was overwhelmed by possible congressional candidates who could form a bloc of strict constitutionalists in Congress and carry the movement on beyond the unsuccessful 2008 nomination struggle. But although he refuses to endorse McCain, Paul also continues to reject the possibility of a third-party run.

Paul said students he talked with "hear other candidates talking change and they know it's the same old stuff over and over again. There's no difference with the other candidates. They know it's going to take time. But as I travel, I find something very significant going on around the country. They know we need to turn this country around."

"I couldn't stop this movement if I tried," he added.

Then, noting Fidel Castro stepping down from Cuba's leadership, Paul repeated his call for an end to the U.S. trade embargo on that country. "Fifty years of the embargo haven't worked," he said. "This is a wonderful opportunity to undermine communism."

--Andrew Malcolm

Photo: Bruce Crummy / Associated Press

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