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The Accidental Pol

Ron Paul's offbeat campaign touches down in Idaho

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Candidates rarely get a moment to themselves, so Ron Paul's bewildered look should come as a surprise to nobody. But lately, Paul has adopted the mien of a man borne along by tides he never anticipated. With John McCain wearing the Republican Party's mantle as its "presumptive nominee" (it's the closest he'll get to the real title until the party's convention in Minnesota this September), guys like Paul might sound like also-rans.

But Paul, the libertarian candidate with a strong affection for the U.S. Constitution, soldiers on, even if he's not entirely sure why.

"I was talked into doing this a long time ago," Paul said Friday, before taking the stage at the College of Idaho. "I thought, in three months I can go back to my business. I haven't been able to walk away."

Instead, the amiable doctor and Texas congressman is finding packed houses at odd locations like Caldwell, where the Farm City readerboard, owned by Ralph Sneed, announced his arrival. Whether it was the billboard or the squeaks of news about his appearance on local television stations, Paul packed the Jewett Auditorium on the college campus. His fans run the gamut, from ropeheads in river sandals to elderly women in BluBlocker shields to tough guys in ball caps. On the lawn out front, Pro-Life, the senate candidate formerly known as Marvin Richardson, held up a Ron Paul sign and approached all comers. Attendees packed the auditorium to standing-room-only space and waited.

Back in another building, Paul sparred with a small posse of bemused television reporters who wondered openly why he was in town.

"I hear there's going to be a primary here," Paul said, with a grin. Idaho's Republican primary, set for May 27, includes Paul, McCain and until recently, a convicted felon named Keith Russell Judd who, shortly after a story appeared in BW (News, "Vote For the Con," April 9, 2008) was removed from the list.

Paul's candidacy is straightforward, his list of views diverse but guaranteed to keep him on the fringes of the GOP scene. He's against the war in Iraq (he calls it "unconstitutional" and "unnecessary"); he wants to get rid of the Internal Revenue Service, end the United States' membership in the United Nations and eliminate the Federal Reserve and return to the gold standard.

He likes Idaho, he said, because "it's a state that's stood up with Libertarian viewpoints."

"I would like to see the state of Idaho own all their land," he said, without explaining further.

Still, reporters pressed him on his candidacy. Would he endorse McCain?

"The odds of me endorsing McCain are pretty slim," he said, chuckling.

So why go on? Paul says he hopes to push his party to "talk about their roots" and to think hard about the Constitution. He's also hoping for a speaking slot at the Republican Convention.

"But," a reporter growled, "the convention is in Minneapolis, it's not in Disneyland."

Paul, who was told on camera, by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that a win by him was "not going to happen," has heard this sort of dismissal before. He smiled, and carried on, even as another TV reporter's cell phone rang to the tune of "Free Bird." As the reporter stumbled out of the room, kicking over a garbage can as he went, Paul amiably parried with the others.

Then, his time was up. It was off to the stage. While a female Paul supporter who had listened in to the press conference berated the reporters, the Congressman ducked out a back door and over to the auditorium. A full minute of cheering, with chants of "Ron Paul, Ron Paul" greeted him.

"Liberty is alive and well here," Paul announced.

The crowd went nuts. Ron Paul had found his people.

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