Grass roots 'big ace' in Ron Paul's White House bid

Ron Paul joked during Wednesday's Republican debate that so much money is pouring into his campaign from the Internet that he's "struggling to figure out how to spend" it all.

The Texas congressman can thank Trevor Lyman for a chunk of that cash.

Lyman, a Miami Beach online music promoter, is guiding an Internet fundraising drive that he says could well push Paul past his $12 million fourth-quarter fundraising goal by the weekend — a full month ahead of schedule.

Paul had raised more than $9.7 million as of Thursday afternoon, according to his website. Campaign spokesman Jesse Benton said Paul hasn't had any contact with Lyman and is not coordinating with him. The money "has been spontaneously raised," Benton said. "The grass roots are our big ace in the hole."

Earlier this month, Lyman helped orchestrate an online effort that collected $4.2 million in a single day for the 10-term congressman. The one-day take surpassed the $2.7 million that Democrat John Kerry, his party's presidential nominee, raised two days after the Super Tuesday primaries in 2004.

Lyman, 37, has never voted, much less donated to a politician before this year. He said he was drawn to Paul because of the congressman's anti-war stance. Paul is the only GOP candidate calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

"He had the foresight to vote against the war from the beginning," Lyman said.

Lyman is collecting campaign pledges at www.rudysreadinglist.com, a reference to Paul's rival Rudy Giuliani. Paul and Giuliani sparred at a May 15 debate over Paul's contention that U.S. policy in the Middle East sparked the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The goal of the latest fundraising drive, Lyman said, is to help Paul promote his candidacy in early states such New Hampshire, where the congressman is spending $1.1 million in television advertising and is now fourth in state polls. Paul, however, remains in the single digits in national polls, according to data compiled by Real Clear Politics, an online political clearinghouse.

Even so, his Internet fundraising success has sparked interest in Paul's viability as an independent candidate.

At the GOP debate Wednesday night in Florida, Paul was firm in saying he had no intention of leaving the party. "I have won 10 times as a Republican," he said. "We're doing quite well."

That hasn't stopped outside groups from trying to persuade Paul to mount a third-party candidacy. After all, he was the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee in 1988. (He finished a distant third with 432,000 votes.)

Among the groups courting Paul: The 450,000-member Constitution Party, whose members share his strict interpretation of the nation's framing document. "I would love to see him change his mind," party Chairman James Clymer said.

Although not actively recruiting Paul, Libertarian Party executive director Shane Cory acknowledged that "there are many Libertarians that hope he comes home."

Thirteen candidates already are vying for the White House under the Libertarian banner, but the party won't pick its nominee until its May convention.

Despite his long-shot status, Paul has demonstrated the "efficiency of the Internet to help a fairly broad but thin strata of supporters to find their particular candidate," said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

If Paul were to wage a third-party bid, his conservative views could strip votes from the GOP nominee and alter the course of what it is expected to be a close race, Jillson said. "This could be a rough equivalent of what Ralph Nader did to the Democrats."

Paul's party affiliation doesn't concern Lyman. He said he will raise money as long as his candidate stays in the race.

"Parties don't matter at all," he said. "This is about character and message."

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