Remember the strained and bemused expressions on the GOP presidential contenders’ faces whenever Ron Paul spoke up during a debate? While Paul excoriated American empire, a split-screen would show the frontrunners dismissing the Texas Congressman as if he were a crazy uncle. A band of “Paulite” Congressional candidates and their netroots supporters want to permanently inject the same antiwar, small-government message their hero frequently added to the GOP debate.
Even as Paul’s still ongoing campaign is largely ignored, he and his followers remain a grassroots phenomenon. Paul blogs and forums receive traffic numbers competitive with popular conservative hubs like Red State and PowerLine; his popularity on YouTube rivals that of Barack Obama; and his book, The Revolution, hovers just below Fareed Zakaria and Barbara Walters on the New York Times bestseller list. Despite the fact that Paul’s bid for the presidency is more quixotic now than ever, a record amount of people voted for him in Idaho’s under-the-radar May 27 Republican primary; in Pennsylvania, Oregon and the four primaries in between, he drew 270,000 votes. After volunteering for his campaign, roughly forty candidates for the House and two for the Senate are running on Paul’s “liberty” platform. While GOP Congressional leaders worry about their fall prospects, these candidates are harnessing netroots-style activism in their quest to become an important constituency within the party.
The various campaigns are not yet as connected as Paul organizers would like, but what ties most of them together is a similar message. Paul-backed Congressional candidates in Michigan, Louisiana, Tennessee and New York all give the same response when asked why the GOP is faring badly in special elections and why their prospects for the fall have earned dim forecasts: because they are sticking with the Bush agenda rather than adopting Paul’s limited government, anti-empire message. “Expansion of big government programs has lost us credibility,” says Amit Singh, one of the thirty “liberty” candidates campaigning to run on the Republican ticket–as opposed to eleven Independents, seven Libertarians, and two Democrats. “We can’t promote our values onto other types of people, they should decide for themselves,” he adds.
Singh, an ex-intelligence contractor who hopes to oust Jim Moran from Virginia’s 8th District, was the first person to sign Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig’s Change Congress pledge, vowing to reform campaign finance by refusing the contributions of PACs or lobbyists. Instead, he relies on Paul-inspired fundraising techniques. He made a video with the Texas Congressman to publicize a “money bomb” like the one Paul supporters held on November 5. 2007, when they raised $4.3 million in twenty-four hours by getting people to make small donations on the Internet. This spiked Singh’s fundraising to surpass his total goal two months into his three-month-old candidacy. Other Paulite candidacies are less sophisticated, like David Gay of Syracuse, New York, and Linda Goldthorpe of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, both fighting to get on the Republican ballot, use Internet fundraising not just for money bombs but to show people in their districts that they are slowly gathering the support and attention of voters from thousands of miles away.