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Pumped up by a record day of online fundraising, Republican presidential contender Ron Paul said Wednesday he hopes to do well in a New Hampshire campaign in which he’s emerging as a potential spoiler — or more.
In an Associated Press interview, he said people startled by the $4.3 million take from his volunteer-led fundraising blitz Monday might be surprised on Election Day as well.
“They said if the candidate doesn’t call and pander to special interests you can’t raise enough money. But here, we found out the campaign is very spontaneous and volunteers are coming,” he said.
“So, I would say a campaign like ours would surprise others.”
More important than money is his message, Paul said before starting a full day of campaigning in the first-primary state, with promises of more to come.
“I will be here a lot more but I think there’s something in the air that says people are starved for a different message, and I have that message,” he said.
Paul, a Texas congressman considered an extreme long-shot for the presidency, has stood out at Republican debates as the strongest advocate for a quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. But he said much of his support comes from people frightened about the economy — jobs, health care and the prospect of $100-a-barrel oil.
“We have to stop spending the money excessively. We have to stop printing the money,” said Paul, who favors returning to the gold standard to shore up the dollar.
After the interview, Paul spoke to about 150 students at Nashua South High School and won applause for his remarks on Iraq. He said if he’s elected, U.S. troops wouldn’t come home in a day but could be withdrawn in two to three months.
In Wednesday’s interview, he also dismissed Pakistan’s embattled president as “nothing more than a puppet government for the United States.”
Though he reiterated his call for ending foreign aid and using the money at home, he did not say whether he favors immediately ending aid to Pakistan.
The campaign’s Internet prowess has drawn comparisons to Democrat Howard Dean, the Democratic front-runner in 2004 until Iowa and New Hampshire. Dean also strongly opposed the war.
Paul said the U.S. failure in Iraq is much clearer now, and his message is much broader than Dean’s.
“He didn’t have a non-intervention foreign policy. I talk about policy overall,” he said.
Even before Monday, Paul had crept up to fourth in state GOP polling, with 7 percent in a survey last month by SRBI Research for Saint Anselm College. That put him behind Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain and essentially tied with Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson.
People are suddenly paying attention.
“I could see if Ron Paul gets 10 percent he could finish in fourth place,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. If Romney, Giuliani or McCain slip up, Paul could do even better, Smith said.
Smith said Paul’s anti-establishment image, similar to underdog winner Pat Buchanan’s in 1996, appeals to voters unhappy with what the mainstream candidates are offering.
But Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scientist, said Paul needs to expand his base beyond the young, the libertarian and the disaffected.
“There is a ceiling on his coalition of voters,” said Scala. “He’s going to have to break through that ceiling and, at least in New Hampshire, reach out to more moderate Republicans.”
“I think that’s where our greatest strength is, is the fact that the unhappy Republicans and independents have turned against the Republicans because the Republicans claimed they were conservatives and they weren’t. They spent too much. The debt exploded and the war has been poorly run. We shouldn’t have been in it,” he said.
Paul reiterated his faith in the grass-roots effort propelling his campaign forward later in the day at a pizza shop in Concord where reporters outnumbered staff and patrons.
“I think people are very unhappy” with other candidates’ messages, he said. “They hear something different from me. … What I talk about is believable.”
Smith said the depth of that discontent, and Paul’s ability to tap it, remain to be seen. Without winning, Paul simply fulfills the role of an ideological candidate pushing his position, Smith said.
“And then they fade,” he said. “Voters want to see someone who can win in November. The nominating process is all about picking a winner.”
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