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Congressman Paul's Legislative Strategy? He'd Rather Say Not.

Ron Paul meets with a constituent on Capitol Hill on June 28. The Texas Republican calls himself the
Ron Paul meets with a constituent on Capitol Hill on June 28. The Texas Republican calls himself the "taxpayers' best friend." But in his 14th District, Paul is either a beloved figure or a mystifying one. Below, a telling sign in his congressional office. (Photos By Melina Mara -- Washington Post)

He is father to five, grandfather to 17, and delivered something like 4,000 babies during his career as an obstetrician and gynecologist. Before he largely retired from his practice in 1996, he refused on principle to accept Medicare and Medicaid, and sometimes treated patients for free.

In Texas's 14th District, which runs along the northern Gulf Coast and includes the cities of Galveston and Victoria, Paul is either a beloved figure or a mystifying one. He calls himself the "taxpayers' best friend," and this has led him to controversial stands, such as voting against federal farming subsidies despite the wide swaths of agricultural land in his district. Because he won't cooperate with fellow Republicans in the House unless a bill is in line with his principles, some constituents feel he puts his libertarian agenda over the district's needs.

"He's certainly the taxpayer's friend if the taxpayer doesn't want to get anything done," says John W. Hancock Jr., a rice farmer and banker in El Campo. "All he does is go to Washington and write articles and vote no."

Paul's supporters see him as principled. He is known for constituent services such as getting medals for veterans who never received theirs. He is also a proponent of gun rights and he personally opposes abortion, though he thinks the matter should be left to the states.

"He's just consistent, consistent, consistent," says Debra Medina, the Wharton County Republican chairwoman. "He always talks about the Constitution and what the federal government ought to be doing, and he consistently articulates this basic mistrust of big government, which I think most people have."

Republican Party leaders supported a rival Republican in 1996, when Paul campaigned to return to Congress after a 12-year absence. Paul proved himself to be a strong fundraiser, gathering much of his money from out-of-state donors. He won a primary runoff, then eked out a three-point victory against his Democratic opponent in the general election.

The next time around, Democrats made him a top target, supporting a rice farmer named Loy Sneary. (Be "leery of Sneary," Paul warned. "Be cheery about Sneary," his opponent replied.) Paul won again. Since then, his margin of victory has gotten bigger in every election. This time around, he faces a Democrat named Shane Sklar, who is trying to paint Paul as out of touch with his district.

Paul's wife of nearly 50 years, Carol, quilts and came up with the idea to put together cookbooks that his campaign sends to constituents, many of whom also receive cards on their birthdays. His campaign Web site recently featured a recipe for chicken salad casserole, "a favorite of Brazoria County Republican Women." Paul almost always goes home to Lake Jackson on weekends.

"He doesn't want Potomac fever -- he thinks it's very contagious," says Carol Paul, who happens to be in Washington on a visit.

"I have a meeting with veterans on Saturday, and I have to check my tomato plants," the congressman says.

Ron Paul may seem an unlikely advocate for the repeal of federal drug laws, but this stance stems from the same impulse that leads him to call for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration and its "health nannies." He says that decades of government programs can soften Americans' sense of personal responsibility and that the free market can do a better job of keeping people safe and healthy than the government can.

He also wants America to withdraw from the United Nations and NATO. He is against the government's "delusional, feel-good" policies of giving aid to needy countries in places like Africa; instead, private citizens and private groups should give charity if they want to. He has written that Americans "don't need to be forced to pay for foreign welfare at the barrel of a government gun."

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