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An Also-Ran in the GOP Polls, Ron Paul Is Huge on the Web

Rep. Ron Paul, one of the most obscure GOP presidential hopefuls on the old-media landscape, has drawn more views of his YouTube videos (which include clips from the June 5 New Hampshire debate, above) than any of his GOP rivals.
Rep. Ron Paul, one of the most obscure GOP presidential hopefuls on the old-media landscape, has drawn more views of his YouTube videos (which include clips from the June 5 New Hampshire debate, above) than any of his GOP rivals. (By Elise Amendola -- Associated Press)

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By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 16, 2007

On Technorati, which offers a real-time glimpse of the blogosphere, the most frequently searched term this week was "YouTube."

Then comes "Ron Paul."

The presence of the obscure Republican congressman from Texas on a list that includes terms such as "Sopranos," "Paris Hilton" and "iPhone" is a sign of the online buzz building around the long-shot Republican presidential hopeful -- even as mainstream political pundits have written him off.

Rep. Ron Paul is more popular on Facebook than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He's got more friends on MySpace than former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. His MeetUp groups, with 11,924 members in 279 cities, are the biggest in the Republican field. And his official YouTube videos, including clips of his three debate appearances, have been viewed nearly 1.1 million times -- more than those of any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, except Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

No one's more surprised at this robust Web presence than Paul himself, a self-described "old-school," "pen-and-paper guy" who's serving his 10th congressional term and was the Libertarian Party's nominee for president in 1988.

"To tell you the truth, I hadn't heard about this YouTube and all the other Internet sites until supporters started gathering in them," confessed Paul, 71, who said that he's raised about $100,000 after each of the three debates. Not bad considering that his campaign had less than $10,000 when his exploratory committee was formed in mid-February. "I tell you I've never raised money as efficiently as that, in all my years in Congress, and all I'm doing is speaking my mind."

That means saying again and again that the Republican Party, especially when it comes to government spending and foreign policy, is in "shambles."

But while many Democrats have welcomed the young and fresh-faced Obama, who's trailing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in most public opinion polls, Paul is barely making a dent in the Republican polls.

Republican strategists point out that libertarians, who make up a small but vocal portion of the Republican base, intrinsically gravitate toward the Web's anything-goes, leave-me-alone nature. They also say that his Web presence proves that the Internet can be a great equalizer in the race, giving a much-needed boost to a fringe candidate with little money and only a shadow of the campaign staffs marshaled by Romney, McCain and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

An obstetrician and gynecologist, Paul is known as "Dr. No" in the House of Representatives. No to big government. No to the Internal Revenue Service. No to the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

"I'm for the individual," Paul said. "I'm not for the government."

If he had his way, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Education, among other agencies, would not exist. In his view, the USA Patriot Act, which allows the government to search personal data, including private Internet use, is unconstitutional, and trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement are a threat to American independence.


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