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The Ron Paul Factor

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Given my libertarian leanings it should come as no surprise that I am following, though not necessarily supporting, Republican Congressman Ron Paul's presidential campaign. His opposition to the war in Iraq as well as the Patriot Act sets him apart from the rest of the GOP pretenders to the imperial throne. His appeal to paleoconservatives as well as libertarians has garnered him a loyal and determined group of supporters that could keep him in contention through the early primaries and perhaps beyond. The momentum around Paul's candidacy begs the question: could Ron Paul become 2008's Eugene McCarthy?

In the recent Iowa straw poll Ron Paul came in fifth place with 9 percent of the vote. Although not overly impressive, it is still a good showing considering how little time and money he invested in the state compared with candidates who finished ahead of him. The big difference separating him from the rest of the pack is the enthusiasm and commitment of his supporters who are drawn mainly from paleoconservative and libertarian groups - groups increasingly alienated from the GOP. Like other "broken glass" political activists who would walk on almost anything to get to the polls to vote for their candidate, many of Paul's supporters came to vote in the Iowa straw poll at their own expense.

Congressman Tom Tancredo may be Ron Paul's closest rival in appealing to paleocons, especially the former "Buchanan Brigades" who terrorized the GOP establishment in the 1996 presidential primaries. Like Pat Buchanan, Tancredo has focused on ending immigration with quasi-racist appeals. Although Ron Paul echoes the call for stricter border controls, he strongly appeals to libertarians with his opposition to the war, the Patriot Act, and his support for abolition of the Federal Reserve System.

Tancredo finished ahead of Paul in the straw poll with 13 percent, but the former spent much more money and time in Iowa than the latter, which calls into question the strength of his showing. In addition, recent financial disclosures show that even though both candidates raised about the same amount of money, Paul had $2.3 million on hand as of June 30 compared to Tancredo's $500,000. With strong Internet support and a viable fundraising base, Paul is better positioned than Tancredo to make a significant showing in the early primaries. As we head towards next summer's convention, it will be interesting to see if Paul can forge and maintain a delicate collation of Buchananista "peasants with pitchforks" and hippie peaceniks he'll need to carry him through the primaries.