DIXVILLE NOTCH, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Voters in Dixville Notch, a remote pass in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, have rubbed shoulders with White House contenders for years, but even for their seasoned eyes Ron Paul is something different.
The Texas congressman, an outside hope in the race to represent Republicans in the 2008 presidential election, wants to abolish federal income taxes, blames U.S. foreign policy for global terrorism and calls for an end to foreign aid.
New Hampshire, one of the first states to choose a party nominee, has seen a colorful array of mavericks over the years, but Paul’s embrace by the Internet generation has added life to a campaign that might have withered on the fringe before the era of blogs and e-mail.
He is still a long shot for the Republican nomination, registering less than 5 percent on most polls. But a 24-hour Internet fund-raising blitz last week that raised $4.3 million, a one-day Republican online record, has energized the 72-year-old former obstetrician and his supporters.
“It gives us credibility,” Paul said of the money during an interview in Dixville Notch, a town of less than 30 inhabitants which by a quirk of state law is one of the first places to declare the results in presidential elections.
His fierce anti-war stance, agenda for a smaller government and literal view of the Constitution have attracted many Internet activists, whose grass-roots muscle is lifting him to within reach of a $12 million fund-raising target this year.
“There’s only one thing that we have to do and that’s obey the Constitution,” the 10-term U.S. congressman told voters in the mountain pass near Canada’s border.
“You wouldn’t have a welfare state. You wouldn’t be the policeman of the world,” he said. “The government would be there to protect our privacy, not steal our privacy.”
He has raised about $8.3 million — peanuts compared to the $47 million produced by Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani and the $63 million of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who leads Republican polling in New Hampshire.
But Paul’s supporters plan another fund-raising spectacle on December 16 — timed for the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party that helped to propel U.S. independence from Britain — with an ambitious goal of $10 million.
That dwarfs the $3.6 million raised by Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and outside challenger. It could give Paul a chance to influence the nominating primary in New Hampshire, where he could take support from another contender Arizona Sen. John McCain.
“With Ron Paul there’s a freshness about his willingness to defy Republican ideas, a Republican who takes on the Republican Party,” said Julian Zelizer, a history and public affairs professor at Princeton University.
“There’s also a certain sense of authenticity to him that young people seem to be flocking to, not that he is going to win, but there’s a level of attraction of a true libertarian who runs on it, who defends it, who’s not embarrassed by it.”
Paul said in the interview his ideas represent a philosophy Republicans long abandoned, but he has no interest in pursuing a third-party candidacy as he did in 1988 when he was the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate.
He said he takes inspiration from Samuel Adams, an 18th-century politician who helped foment the U.S. revolution.
“He was the agitator behind the scenes,” said Paul, who has angered many in his own party by suggesting U.S. foreign policy contributed to the September 11, 2001, attacks.
“Terrorists don’t come here because we are free and prosperous. Terrorists come here because we are in their face, we are in their country, building bases in their land and stealing their oil,” he told the Dixville Notch voters.
He said he has been surprised by his support on college campuses. New Hampshire, with its official motto of “Live Free or Die” and libertarian bent, provides a natural setting for him. But he said he’s also focused heavily on Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada, all important early nominating states.
His ideas offer plenty of nuances.
Although he opposes abortion and supports repealing the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized it, he opposes a constitutional amendment that would ban abortions nationwide and says states should decide the issue.
Paul advocates ending the Internal Revenue Service and halting income tax, but he admits such a policy would be doomed if most Americans wanted to continue with a federal welfare system.
Bob Mills, 38, a Dixville Notch town selectman, said Paul’s message appealed to him. “I like his constitutional stance which means he’s for state’s rights. But I’m still undecided.”
Editing by David Storey