Paul's Quixotic, Chaotic Run May Make Its Push in N.H.

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 6, 2007

CONCORD, N.H. -- Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has raised more than $10 million for his run for president in the past two months, leaving him well positioned to help swing the outcome of the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, a state well suited to his libertarian, antiwar platform.

And yet it was only late last month that his state headquarters here acquired a basic campaign tool: telephones. For months, Paul's avid supporters were perfectly willing to make campaign calls with their own cellphones. The telephone company was dragging its feet, said Jared Chicoine, Paul's 25-year-old state campaign manager. And, well, the Paul surge has been so sudden that some things have gotten lost in the rush.

"There's been a lot going on," Chicoine said in explaining the delay.

With so much money in the bank -- and with more expected after another one-day fundraising "bomb" pegged to the Dec. 16 anniversary of the Boston Tea Party -- the Paul campaign is in a position to make a push in a state whose "Live Free or Die" ethos makes it an ideal early target for the iconoclastic congressman. And Paul could have an impact on both parties' Jan. 8 primaries: He is drawing close to double digits in some Republican polls here, and it is not hard to find independent voters -- who under state rules can vote in either party's primary -- who confess to fondness for both Paul and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

But as the campaign decides how to marshal its resources for the stretch run, it is unclear just how much control it will have over Paul's fate here. That's because not only is the Paul campaign's lean infrastructure dwarfed by that of his rivals, it is also struggling to control the volunteer army that serves as his main driver -- acting sometimes, but not always, in concert with the campaign leadership.

Last week, it was volunteers belonging to the Paul group at Meetup, an online networking site, who organized an evening of phone calls at Paul's headquarters here before watching the GOP debate together. It was the same volunteers who organized a day of canvassing by 60 supporters Saturday, a frigid day so windy that a gust toppled the huge Christmas tree outside the State House in Concord.

And it is the same people who have churned out tens of thousands of Paul fliers from a Merrimack printing press co-owned by supporter Linda Lagana to sell at cost to Paul supporters around the country, separate from the mailings being paid for by the campaign. Recently, the head of Paul's largest Meetup chapter in New Hampshire, Jim Forsythe, paid $70 to create a glossy one-page "open letter" praising Paul. Lagana's press rolled off 1,000 copies of the letter, to be stuffed into the monthly newsletter in Forsythe's town of Strafford.

"There's a lot flying out of my shop right now," Lagana said. "It must drive [the campaign] crazy. They don't know what we're doing. Fortunately, we're pretty responsible."

Paul admitted how much his election prospects are outside his own control in a brief interview at a Manchester bar, where he stopped Saturday night to greet a raucous throng of supporters. "They've been out walking the streets all day, and we didn't plan it. We didn't plan the money-raising. It is in a sense a revolution, a grass-roots revolution in the best of its meaning," he said.

Asked if he hopes to exert more control over the effort as the primary nears, Paul demurred. "It's the way I want the markets to work, so the market of politics should work that way, too," he said.

He added with a chuckle: "The only thing that's going to close it down is some [Federal Election Commission] ruling or something: 'That's too much freedom. We better abolish this spontaneity.' "

The campaign does control one key area: mass-media purchases. Last month, it bought $1.1 million worth of television advertising time in New Hampshire for the remainder of the campaign, as well as about $430,000 worth of radio time in the state, said Jesse Benton, a national campaign spokesman. There are three television ads now in circulation -- one on spending, one on civil liberties and one on the campaign's momentum -- with two more in the works.

The campaign's other major investment has been in direct mail. Benton and Chicoine declined to say how much the campaign has spent on mailings, but supporters proudly report receiving multiple pieces in their mailboxes and point to the high quality of the work, including a sleek 12-page, 8-by-11-inch brochure that supporters say went to every Republican in the state.

But the campaign still has plenty of money to spend in the final weeks in New Hampshire. Benton said it has to leave enough to compete in South Carolina and Nevada afterward, and it can buy only so much more television time here because most has already been reserved by other campaigns. But it is planning to add a couple of staff members in New Hampshire, and "if there's more radio that needs to be bought, it will be bought," he said.

The campaign's other challenge is deciding where exactly to aim its pitch, because Paul is attracting such an idiosyncratic mix of supporters. Campaign officials say they have relied on mailing lists that include antiabortion voters (Paul opposes abortion despite his opposition to government intervention in other areas), gun owners and opponents of mandatory mental health screening in the schools. But the volunteers working the new phones at the Concord headquarters last week were still doing basic outreach of the sort most campaigns were perfecting months ago, cold-calling voters to find out their favorite candidate and top two issues.

Not that Paul is necessarily competing directly against his rivals. Campaign officials and volunteers alike say they see themselves as striving more to reach residents who have given up on politics. It is hard to imagine voters deciding between Paul and the pro-Iraq-war Republicans in the rest of the field, they say, but they also are not making concerted efforts to reach independents leaning toward an antiwar Democrat such as Obama.

"It's a lot of lifelong Republicans, folks who've been out of it and were discouraged," Chicoine said. "We don't find droves of Democrats saying, 'This is our man.' He is a conservative. He is an antiwar conservative in the line of what Republicans used to be."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company