WASHINGTON — Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who's attracted a lot of interest and some support from young people and tea party conservatives, formally announced his bid Friday for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Paul, 75, is far behind in polls in crucial early primary and caucus states. And his 2008 presidential effort fell far short. But his often unorthodox libertarian views have gained him respect in some circles.
Thanks to an energetic effort by his young supporters, Paul beat a field of better-known Republicans at February's American Conservative Union convention with 30 percent of the vote. And he reported raising more than $1 million on May 5, the day of the first Republican candidates' debate, in South Carolina.
"He speaks the right language to a particular demographic — young people who are fiscally conservative but have socially libertarian views," said Wayne Lesperance, professor of political science at New England College in Henniker, N.H.
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On the other hand, he said, "Nobody wins elections with young voters alone." An April 10-14 McClatchy-Marist poll put Paul sixth among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, with 7 percent backing.
Paul, a doctor specializing in obstetrics/gynecology, appeared Friday on ABC News, then spoke to supporters in Exeter, N.H. In 2008, he finished a distant fifth in that state's first-in-the-nation GOP presidential primary. But in 2012, "the time has come around to the point where the people are agreeing with much of what I've been saying for 30 years, so I think the time is right," he told ABC.
Paul Friday summed up his philosophy this way: "The government has very little authority to get involved in our economic or personal lives."
For instance, the government has no place providing aid to flood victims. "I don't think anybody in New York or New Hampshire or Iowa has to pay for my flood on the Gulf Coast," Paul said on ABC. If people are worried about floods, he said, "Buy insurance."
He reiterated ideas he's been touting for some time, such as a belief that people should not have to comply with the new federal health care law's requirement for nearly everyone to get coverage by 2014. And he's a longtime critic of the Federal Reserve, calling it earlier this week "the enabler of bad economic policy for many decades."
Paul has also said that while he supports "the whole idea of going after" Osama bin Laden, he questioned the May 2 operation in Pakistan that resulted in bin Laden's death.
"I don't think it was necessary, no," Paul told Des Moines radio station WHO Thursday, because of "respect for the rule of law, international law." He said the U.S. should have worked more closely with the Pakistan government.
"What if he had been at a hotel in London?" Paul asked. "Would we have sent the helicopters into London?"
Whether Paul can emerge as a serious contender remains questionable.
While Paul is a long shot to win this year's New Hampshire primary, Dante Scala, the chairman of the University of New Hampshire's political science department, said he could take votes away from "tea party wannabes," such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and possible candidates such as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Paul could take 5 percent to 7 percent of the GOP primary voting pool by luring tea party backers from such other candidates, Scala said. As a result, Paul could be of "marginal help" to more-mainstream candidates such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, "who were never going to get those votes anyway," Scala said.
"It's too soon to say where he's going to fit into the mix," said Lisa Van Riper, political science instructor at North Greenville University in South Carolina. Social conservatives are still influential in the GOP, and they have qualms about some of his views. On gay marriage, for instance, he said at last week's debate, "the government should just be out of it."
Getting big numbers of Republicans to accept such positions could be a challenge, Lesperance said, "He has to find a way to be acceptable to the mainstream."
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