(Alex Isenstadt) Ron Paul isn’t going to win the Republican presidential nomination, and his long Capitol Hill career is coming to end. But even as he winds down his career in elected office, his voice is being amplified across the country by dozens of House and Senate candidates who are seeking to carry on his legacy.
There’s no exact way of measuring how many Paul-inspired candidates are running this year. But Jared Paine, a Paul supporter who operates a website that tracks the campaigns of libertarian-minded candidates, said he counted around two dozen active Paul backers who are running for House or Senate seats and another 200 or so who are seeking local offices — almost all of them running as Republicans.
It’s a measure of the depth of the passion Paul inspires from his supporters, which is marked by a ferocity and commitment to the cause that few other pols can command.
Many of the candidates have sought to tap into the energy surrounding Paul’s presidential campaign. John Dennis, a San Francisco Republican looking to unseat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has spoken at Paul rallies and cut a Web video urging voters to support Paul prior to the Iowa caucuses. Florida Senate candidate Mirand Sharma, who has worked as a Paul organizer, has sought to recruit campaign volunteers from among those who also support the congressman. Missouri hopeful Jason Greene, who is running for a House seat, has vigorously promoted his candidacy on Paul-focused online bulletin boards.
To hear those aligned with the GOP presidential candidate tell it, the proliferation of Paul-affiliated candidates underscores a simple truth: Paul, once regarded as a fringe candidate, has gone mainstream. Despite the fact that he has announced he is not running for reelection to Congress, his ideas have established him as an important figure in American politics.
“I don’t think people expected Paul to accomplish so much,” said Scotty Boman, a Senate candidate in Michigan who met Paul in 1988 when the Texan was running for president on the Libertarian ticket. “He’s been able to break a barrier and be heard by the mainstream.”
“He’s activated a lot of people around his message,” added Boman, who includes on his website a picture of himself waving a Paul presidential campaign sign.
The rise of the Paul babies also reflects the increasingly central role of the Internet in political organizing. Paul’s grass-roots supporters have become known for their extensive use of the Web to promote the congressman, establishing sites like the Daily Paul and Ron Paul Forums to bring like-minded activists together. In recent months, Paul’s supporters have also begun using those online bulletin boards to promote their own candidacies.
“I didn’t think it would happen in American politics,” Paine said of the surge of Paul-inspired candidacies. “But it happened with the Internet, which I think changed the game a little bit.”
Paine’s website, one of several that promote Paul-aligned candidates, features weekly fundraising drives for the hopefuls and has regular question-and-answer sessions with them.
Christopher David, a 25-year-old Web consultant who worked on Paul’s 2008 campaign and is now running for a Los Angeles-area congressional seat, said Paul supporters recognized that his presidential campaign was coming to an end and were looking for a new avenue to express their support for him.
“There are a lot of people around the country and the world who identify with the things Ron Paul is saying,” said David, who highlights his work for Paul on his campaign website. “As the presidential campaign winds down, he’s going to have to pass the baton — and I don’t think it should be to just one person.”
Getting elected, however, is another matter entirely. While Paul’s son, Rand, managed to win Kentucky’s open Senate seat in 2010, most of the Ron Paul-inspired candidates are long shots who will need to broaden their appeal if they hope to be competitive. Some are still grappling with the basics of running a campaign.
One of them, Paul activist Dan Stojadinovic, announced last fall on the Ron Paul Forums website that he intended to run for Senate in Florida.
“My plan is to go around Florida and speak about Liberty,” Stojadinovic wrote. “The bad part is that I have no clue what to do so I need some help with paperwork first and understanding the process. I think I can speak well and promote Ron Paul and liberty but don’t understand the mechanics of the process right now.”
A few months later, Stojadinovic said on his website that he was aborting his bid. “Due to the lack of public donations and other needed political support such as media access, the campaign is unable to function and is in a state of suspension,” he wrote.
David said he was energized about trying to unseat California Rep. Henry Waxman, an entrenched 37-year Democratic incumbent, but understood that he had a very tough road ahead.
“I think it’s extremely daunting,” he said.
Not everyone faces such long odds. Thomas Massie, local officeholder and businessman who has been a vocal supporter of Paul and his son, is running competitively for a vacant Kentucky congressional seat.
For some of his backers, Paul has begun offering endorsements. Jesse Benton, a Paul campaign spokesman, said the congressman had pledged his personal support for two of his backers , Minnesota state Rep. Kurt Bills, who is running for Senate, and Massie, and had provided financial support to them through his political action committee, Liberty PAC. Benton said more endorsements could come later.
Not all of Paul’s supporters say they’re looking to feature the Texas congressman prominently in their campaigns.
Congressional candidate Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired Air Force officer who has written on pro-Paul websites and contributed to a book about the Texas congressman, said she wasn’t attaching herself to Paul. Some voters, she said, didn’t like his isolationist views on foreign policy.
“I’m not running under his banner,” said Kwiatkowski, who’s looking to unseat GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte in Virginia. “He’s not popular in a lot of places.”
And while he said he appreciated Paul’s endorsement, Massie said he didn’t mention the congressman much on the campaign trail.
“Everybody has to run their own race,” Massie said. “You won’t find a Ron Paul clone. Everybody has a different background from a different district.”