Ron Paul's campaign takes to the airwaves
Maverick boosts pursuit of votes in early primaries
By BENNETT ROTH
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON — Hoping to defy more expectations, Rep. Ron Paul is ratcheting up his maverick Republican presidential campaign by launching TV and radio commercials in early primary states and setting an ambitious $12 million fundraising goal.
For a candidate often relegated by pundits to second- or third-tier status, Paul's ability to make a big entry into advertising wars is unusual.
With just over two months until the first primaries, experts question whether the libertarian-leaning congressman from Lake Jackson can expand his intense following to make a credible showing in these early contests.
Officials with Paul's campaign acknowledge they have an uphill battle, but say they plan to broaden his support with an advertising campaign that includes $1.1 million in television spots that begin airing Monday in New Hampshire.
Campaign spokesman Jesse Benton said the purpose of the ads was to "give people a full picture of who Ron Paul is. The war is a component, but there is a heck of a lot more, too."
The television spots feature people in New Hampshire talking about Paul's stands, including bringing troops home from Iraq. The ad also includes biographical material, emphasizing that obstetrician Paul is the only doctor in the race, said Benton.
This month the Paul campaign began running about $430,000 worth of radio spots in New Hampshire and early primary states of South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada. Those radio ads stress his domestic stands such as opposition to tax increases and amnesty for illegal immigrants.
To help pay for the stepped-up efforts — of course the campaign hopes to reach beyond past donors who included a self-identified clown and a wizard — the campaign has also set a target of raising $12 million for the last three months of this year.
That would be more than double the $5.2 million campaign took in during the third quarter of 2007, and about as much as better-known GOP presidential contender Fred Thompson raised last quarter.
Also, Paul — whose district includes Galveston and areas on three sides of Houston — has run a frugal campaign, spending $2.8 million for the first nine months of this year compared with $30 million by GOP front-runner Rudolph Giuliani and $53 million by Mitt Romney.
Unlike some rivals, Paul mostly flies commercial, except for two trips where his campaign paid $40,000 for a charter.
His catering tab included Costco and Sam's Club in Des Moines, Iowa, and Peters' Cut Rate Liquor in Freeport.
The Texan has surprised political observers and party officials with his fundraising, almost 80 percent of it via the Internet. He has attracted many donors with his opposition to the Iraq war and a limited-government message.
Cash cushion, no debt
So Paul enters the final stretch before the early primaries in a relatively comfortable financial position, with $5.4 million cash on hand and no debt. He has about $2 million more money in the bank than fellow contender, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
GOP officials in early primary states say that while they have been impressed with the intensity of Paul's supporters, they are not sure if he can expand his following, particularly among Republican primary voters generally supportive of the Iraq war.
"I know Ron Paul has an army. They believe in him and follow him. You see the people on the street corners," said Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. "But is it big enough? I don't know."
Dawson said Paul's anti-war message "is not selling in the circles that I travel in." But he added that Paul's focus on limited government "does hit a vein." He said that Paul's ability to spend more money in the state will help, adding, "Money is the mother's milk of politics."
A new poll of likely Granite state voters for the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College showed Paul garnering 7 percent of the GOP primary vote, ahead of Mike Huckabee and Thompson.
In New Hampshire, state GOP chairman Fergus Cullen cites evidence of support for Paul in campaign signs that appear to outnumber those of other candidates.
Cullen noted the signs are on private property, not on the side of the road, indicating that individual owners, rather than the campaigns, have taken the time to put them up.
Likened to Howard Dean
Paul's best chance in New Hampshire would be if voters conclude the party doesn't stand a chance of winning the general election, said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
He said they may then register a protest vote, much as they did in 1996 when conservative commentator Pat Buchanan beat former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole in the state's GOP primary. Dole got the nomination later, and lost to Bill Clinton.
Some political observers likened Paul to Howard Dean, the Democratic candidate in 2004 who also drew a devoted cyberspace following with his anti-war message but failed to attract sufficient primary voters.
But Glenn McCall, the GOP chairman in York County in South Carolina, said Paul has come across in debates as more sincere than his rivals.
Voters "feel that some of the other candidates are too polished and not true to themselves," McCall said. "Dr. Paul, they feel, is being natural. He is being himself."
Paul's outspoken opposition to the war has made him a favorite on the talk show circuit. He is scheduled to appear Tuesday on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
The Paul campaign spent about $387,000 on salaries for the first nine months of the year compared with Giuliani's campaign payroll of $4.6 million.
On Paul's payroll are his daughter, Lori Pyeatt, who works in Clute, as well as his granddaughter, Valorie Pyeatt, and grandson, Matthew Pyeatt, who helped design the candidate's MySpace profile.