Republican presidential candidates Reps.. Ron Paul (Tex.) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.), during the Fox News Channel debate at the Sioux City Convention Center on Dec. 15. (Scott Olson/GETTY IMAGES)

A New York Times article published Sunday suggests that Ron Paul, who draws significant support from white supremacists, is distancing himself from that group’s views -- but not their support — out of potential political gain.

Paul, for his part, is quick to say that it’s them lending him support, not the other way around.

However, the Times reports that this element, central to Paul’s organization for decades and led by Lew Rockwell, has been a divisive factor for libertarians, including the Cato Institute.

“It was just something that we found abhorrent, and so there was a huge divide,” said Edward H. Crane, the founder of the Cato Institute, a prominent libertarian research center.

Mr. Crane, a longtime critic of Mr. Rockwell, called Mr. Paul’s close association with him “one of the more perplexing things I’ve ever come across in my 67 years.” He added: “I wish Ron would condemn these fringe things that float around because of Rockwell. I don’t believe he believes any of that stuff.”

Mr. Paul said in the interview that he did not, but he declined to condemn Mr. Rockwell, saying he did not want to get in the middle of a fight. “I could understand that, but I could also understand the Rothbard group saying, Why don’t you quit talking to Cato?” he said.