Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, the outspoken libertarian White House hopeful often dismissed by his rivals and the punditocracy as a fringe candidate, was all smiles Wednesday as he bandied about the first-in-the-nation primary state, New Hampshire.
"It's pretty exciting!" he told ABC News.
Long treated at debates as the cantankerous old uncle you don't want to get started talking about the gold standard, Paul had big news. Announcing a relatively astounding haul -- $5.1 million -- in the fundraising quarter that ended Sunday, Paul is knocking on the door of the top-tier candidates in the race.
"It's really fascinating," Paul said, seeming as surprised with the news as was much of the rest of the political world. "I think the time is right. People are really frustrated -- frustrated with both parties, frustrated with the war."
Paul's campaign announced Wednesday afternoon that the congressman from Texas had raised more than $5 million -- twice as much as he raised in the last quarter. Almost every other candidate hit the traditional third-quarter lull in the summer and raised less money.
And while Paul's haul is likely less than that of better-known Republicans, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who have not yet reported third-quarter numbers, it's roughly what Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is estimated to have raised, and five times what former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee brought in.
(For more on Ron Paul's past, his 1988 presidential run and his love-hate relationship with the Republican Party, check out ABC's special "meet the candidates" feature.)
Paul Supporters to Comment on This Dot-Com Story
Paul's supporters are often young and raucous and emanate from college campuses. Their presence on the Internet is undeniable.
"The organization of the campaign popped up spontaneously on the Internet with these meet-up groups," Paul told 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. It's sort of bottom up. All we have done at the campaign is provide the message, and the message turns out to be popular."
Paul said the crowds are excited about his "message of limited government and following the Constitution." He wants to do away with much of the bureaucracy in the federal government. If it is not spelled out in the Constitution, Paul probably does not support it. Take the Department of Education. President Paul would get rid of it. Same with the IRS. In the House, the former obstetrician votes against so many spending and government bills he's called "Dr. No."
But attracting the most interest, political observers say, is Paul's long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq.
"Ron Paul says to a lot of people eager to hear this message, 'You can be anti-war and be a conservative,'" said columnist and ABC News consultant George Will today. "In fact, he says, 'If you are a real small government conservative you have to be anti-war.'"
Asked in August at a Republican debate in Iowa, sponsored by ABC News, to summarize his plan for Iraq, Paul distilled his ideas to three simple words: "Just come home."
Support From Soldiers
Another Paul constituency, interestingly enough, comes from the military. A study by the Center for Responsive Politics found Paul received more campaign cash from members of the military than any other Republican presidential candidate.
The study of contributions of $200 and more during the first two quarters shows that Paul has raised three times as much from members of the military as what's been raised by GOP fundraising front-runner Romney, and four times what Giuliani garnered.
But do not look for Paul to shoot to the top of Republican polls yet. His anti-war, small government message resonates with many, particularly on the Internet. But he has foundered in polls.
His stances on those same issues that have given him so much Web popularity could alienate him from the Republican primary voters that will select their party's candidate. Those voters often support the Iraq War.
Still, as Republicans look for a way to energize their base with a message of limited government, noted Republicans say Paul carries an important lesson.
To put Paul's numbers in perspective, they are nowhere near the $20 million-plus raised by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and $27 million raised by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. And Giuliani and Romney may report having raised as much as $10 million apiece this quarter.
But for an insurgent candidate who was written off by many political pundits to be in the same fundraising ballpark as McCain shows the Paul campaign -- and perhaps even more so, some of its ideas -- to be a legitimate force in the GOP this year.
And today, Dr. No was happy so many Republicans were hearing his message and saying yes.