It’s been over a year since Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) energized libertarians with his presidential candidacy, but the movement he inspired continues to ripple across the landscape.
In at least a handful of House, Senate and gubernatorial contests across the country, former Paul supporters have emerged as credible contenders — or possible spoilers — ensuring that his message, once relegated to the fringes of Republican politics, continues to be heard.
Paul began the 2008 presidential campaign as an afterthought but quickly won the attention of a previously dismissive GOP establishment and news media by generating intense grass-roots and online support. He raised a stunning $35 million, largely through the Internet, and set a single-day fundraising record by hauling in $6 million in December 2007.
While he never finished better than a distant second, his supporters remained loyal to him throughout the campaign and Paul even briefly considered a third-party run in the general election.
Now, those supporters are running for office themselves.
Paul’s son Rand is running competitively in the Kentucky Senate race to succeed Republican Jim Bunning, even though the GOP establishment has lined up behind Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Peter Schiff, an economic adviser to Paul’s presidential campaign, has raised $1 million in his bid to win the Republican nomination against Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
In Texas, a Ron Paul acolyte could have a decisive impact in the Republican gubernatorial primary between incumbent Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. In California, a businessman who backed Paul’s presidential campaign has emerged as a serious contender against Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), who is a top GOP target.
In total, Paul’s political action committee — the Liberty PAC — will be unveiling a slate of 10 endorsed candidates this fall and is currently in the process of interviewing candidates to determine their electability.
“We’re looking for viable candidates to run in Democratic-held seats and open seats,” said Jesse Benton, former spokesman for Paul’s presidential campaign and vice president of the Campaign for Liberty. “We need people that are viable and principled so they can come to Washington and stand up for liberty.”
So far, the Republican establishment is not embracing the Paul contingent. But it may not matter. By drawing on the successful grass-roots fundraising techniques employed by Paul, several of the candidates are raising enough cash on their own to ensure their viability.