While national polls place him near the bottom of the field, impressive fundraising, Internet buzz and crowds of spirited followers have Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, in unfamiliar territory.
As his campaign gains traction, Paul faces a philosophical contradiction: Is he the principled agent provocateur, known as "Dr. No" on Capitol Hill, trying to bring about a grass-roots anti-big-government uprising in American politics?
Or is Paul a Republican presidential candidate with a libertarian bent, seeking big money contributions to fund a traditional campaign?
More important for Paul, can he be both?
Last weekend Paul, the grass-roots libertarian, found himself in a swank New York City penthouse apartment -- complete with a view of the Empire State building -- talking to supporters enjoying hors d'oeuvres at a $1,000-per-person fundraiser.
The campaign had raised $50,000 before Paul left to spend the rest of the weekend at a conference for the libertarian von Mises Institute, which celebrates Paul's intellectual forefather, Austrian philosopher and economist Ludwig von Mises.
Von Mises might have raised his eyebrows at Paul's candidacy as a Republican.
"Full government control of all activities of the individual is virtually the goal of both national parties," the Libertarian thinker wrote in his book "America".
It is not just well-heeled fundraisers and intellectual conferences that have allowed Paul to blossom -- in fact his grassroots campaign may be in spite of them.
Nearly 70 percent of the more than $5 million Paul raised in the past three months came from the Internet, according to Paul's fundraising director, Jonathan Bydlak.
That haul put Paul a surprising fourth in Republican fundraising, matching, for the second time this year, the total of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., once thought to be a formidable front-runner for the nomination by many political pundits.
And Bydlak himself proves the point about the young, anti-establishment, insurgent style of Paul's campaign.
A 24 year-old who worked for a hedge fund after graduating from Princeton, Bydlak quit and joined with Paul in August -- meaning, of course, that Paul has only had a fundraising director since that time.
In interviews, Paul stresses that his campaign is more vox populi than traditional American politics.
"The organization of the campaign popped up spontaneously on the Internet with these meet-up groups," Paul said in a recent interview with ABC News. "It's natural that they would donate the money. So in many ways the campaign has found me as much as I have found them. It's not a top-down organization. Its sort of bottom up. All we have done at the campaign is provide the message and the message turns out to be popular."
But even an insurgent candidate like Paul, if he wants to come off the fringe of the Republican backbench and make a viable run for his party's nomination, will need more than $5 million to hire a large enough national infrastructure and buy expensive media ad time.
So along with the online viral solicitations, Paul has learned to raise funds the old-fashioned way too.
In recent months he has attended fundraisers in Florida, outside Boston, New York and elsewhere.
At another $1,000 minimum fundraiser in August, Paul raised $104,000 at real estate developer Donald Huffines' house in Highland Park, Texas, outside Dallas.