Not anymore. Paul has inched in from the margins to position himself for an unexpectedly strong showing in the Iowa caucuses. His radical economic views are getting a fresh hearing in awful economic times, and his highly organized and well-funded ground game has attracted support beyond his base of young, committed Paul zealots.
But as much as Paul likes to claim that the mainstream has come to him, he has also pursued it. Exhibit A : Downs, a media mercenary who is about as far as it gets from a traditional Paul revolutionary.
“I wouldn’t consider myself a member of his army,” said Downs, a self-described mainstream Republican, as he reclined on a recent evening in his downtown D.C. studio.
But Downs is engineering the campaign’s broadsides.
On Monday, the Paul campaign unveiled a Downs ad eviscerating Newt Gingrich as a Washington insider. An earlier, equally brutal ad out of Downs’s shop prompted a question during Saturday night’s GOP debate. Other Downs productions have included a frenetic, in-your-face spot called “Big Dog,” modeled on Ford’s F-150 truck ads, in which Paul is depicted as having the bite to back up his bark while his opponents are “whimpering like little Shih Tzus.” It received a sendup from Conan O’Brien.
“Driving eyeballs to our stuff maybe takes a little more work or creativity than if you are Barack Obama or Mitt Romney,” explained the 34-year-old Downs, characteristically rumpled-looking in jeans, a blue sweater and Mephisto shoes. Voters appear to be watching. An American Research Group poll released on Monday showed Gingrich’s lead down five points to 22 percent among Iowa caucus-goers, while Paul and Mitt Romney both climbed to 17 percent.
While Paul benefits from Downs’s experience appealing to mainstream Republican electorates, Downs gets the prestige and payday of playing a critical role on a presidential campaign that, even if unsuccessful, amounts to a high-profile audition for the ultimate nominee.
Working for Paul is “a great opportunity for me,” Downs acknowledged before pivoting to talk about his admiration of Paul.
It’s also a ticket into the top echelon of sniping media consultants.
“The ads are better than Ron himself — more presidential, substantive and slick,” said Fred Davis, a veteran Republican media consultant who is known for his unorthodox ads — remember “Demon Sheep”? — and who is working for Jon Huntsman.
When informed that Downs had spoken disparagingly of ad men in Hollywood, where Davis resides, and of his remarks in the interview dissing the “Demon Sheep” ad as a gimmick, Davis reconsidered his earlier praise, calling Downs’s “Big Dog” ad a “direct copy of the Ford F-150 ad.”