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Ron Paul's big chance for a modest splash

February 2, 2008 |  1:42 am

This could be a big weekend for Rep. Ron Paul's longshot but determined campaign to acquire some Republican delegates in the race for his party's presidential nomination.

The 72-year-old, 10-term Texas congressman has been largely dissed and dismissed by party politicians and the media in this lengthening primary race. But his loyal followers have been more than generous in recent weeks, donating nearly $20 million in the last three months of 2007 to make him the most successful GOP fundraiser then and the only one to increase his donations every quarter last year.

According to Paul's website, supporters have given an additional $5 million-plus since Jan. 1.

On Friday, Republicans started three days of caucusing in Maine, a largely ...

rural state where Paul's brand of independence and smaller government might well fit. He's got several hundred volunteers working the caucuses with the same kind of determination and imagination that drove Paul to a distant second-place finish behind Mitt Romney in Nevada's caucuses last month.

Paul is using his funds judiciously, traveling around the country and speaking largely under the major media's radar. He did well in the Louisiana caucuses and even beat out Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson elsewhere, though he finished dead last in the Florida primary.

Earlier this week Paul campaigned in Washington state, speaking to a sizable crowd of enthusiastic students in Seattle about the economy and a possible recession. "The most important thing you can do is nothing," said the onetime Libertarian candidate for president, who recently voted against the $146-billion economic stimulus package.

Paul holds that the market should be allowed to correct itself while a restrained and reduced federal government stops trying to protect millions from the economic consequences of their bad decisions.

Paul was the only Republican candidate to actually visit Maine, a fact that could go over well with locals. The nonbinding caucuses are the first step toward picking 18 Maine delegates who'll travel to the national convention in St. Paul in August.

A win in Maine on a slow news weekend as the only presidential preference voting underway just before Super Tuesday could garner Paul priceless free publicity.

Paul's message of strict constitutionalism has attracted an eclectic crowd of disaffected Democrats and Republicans and libertarians who've formed more than 1,400 meet-up groups across the country. They see their freedoms threatened by such legislation as the Patriot Act and want to bring the troops home from abroad and spend the money on domestic priorities.

Although Paul typically gets the least speaking time during GOP debates, if he isn't barred from participating altogether, he makes the most of his time. He drew numerous positive reviews after the recent Republican debate at the Reagan Library when he said it made no sense to bomb bridges in other countries, only to rebuild them with American taxpayers' money, while the bridges at home are falling down.

"The Constitution was written for one specific purpose," Paul recently told a Seattle crowd, "and that was to restrain government, not to restrain the people."

-- Andrew Malcolm

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