Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul — once a 2008 election nonentity with decidedly Libertarian leanings — has pulled off a recording-breaking fund-raising coup not once but now twice this campaign season. Last weekend, Paul raised US$6 million from more than 59,000 donors, topping his most recent record of $4.2 million in online contributions raised on Nov. 5.
Indeed, according to political lore it tops almost every benchmark in recent campaigns, including Democratic 2004 presidential candidate’s John Kerry’s $5.7 million online haul. Hillary Clinton’s $6.2 million, considered the record, is clearly in Paul’s sights.
$6 Million vs. $90 Million
To be sure, such sums are paltry in comparison to what is raised through traditional channels. Clinton has raised more than $90 million, exceeding her original goal of $75 million in 2007, according to the site Open Secrets.
Paul’s success, though, is still important — and not just because he is ratcheting up the excitement in an already interesting race.
For starters, his deft use of the Internet is leveraging the usually small-footprint Libertarian party. Jacob Grier, a writer and Libertarian based in Arlington, Va., never donated to a politician before Paul, he told the E-Commerce Times.
“I tend to be against most politicians,” said Grier, adding that he donated to Paul last month and again last weekend because he’s the only candidate consistently in favor of limited government and Paul made it easy to do so.
“It’s important to understand that Libertarians happen to be passionate,” explains Herb London, president of the Hudson Institute and 1989 Republican candidate for New York City mayor.
“Whether Ron Paul is a good candidate is less significant than the fact that the people who support him use the Internet. Using the Internet is less significant than the enthusiasm they have for Ron Paul — if they had some other means of activism they would use it, such as radio or TV.”
Indeed, the Internet has become the medium of choice for the underdog — or at least constituencies that don’t get, or feel they don’t get, equal access on mainstream media. Besides the impact Paul’s fund raising success will have on his campaign and its affect on other Republican candidates strategies and messages, his $6 million haul this weekend cements the Internet in this role.
“One commonality with the use of new technology in elections and the political process in general is that is it usually used first by the extreme left or right,” said David E. Johnson, CEO and cofounder of the political consulting firm Strategic Vision. “That is because they are looking for new avenues to communicate their ideas, to raise money and get out the vote.”
“Traditional media tends to shun these candidates,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Still the Underdog
Most political analysts are not preparing for a President Paul administration. A hefty war chest doesn’t always translate into votes in a ballot box. Also, consider Howard Dean and John McCain in 2000 and Mitt Romney in this election cycle: At one time they were considered masters of the online money raising game.
Romney burst out of the gate with a dazzling Web strategy earlier this year but has since faded from the blogosphere. Johnson attributed that in part to other problems arising in his campaign to which staffers have had to redirect resources and in part to a conscious decision to de-emphasize the Web after having gotten savaged by some bloggers.
McCain, he continued, is rumored to be set to launch a new Web site to help him replicate his $1 million Internet campaign haul after winning New Hampshire in 2000.
To a certain degree, of course, all of the candidates are using the Web no matter where they stand in the lineup of presumed party nominees.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama, for instance, has used the Internet well in his fund raising, Johnson said. “He appeals to a young professional crowd used to making purchases online and donating online.”
Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, another erstwhile dark horse that has suddenly gained traction, is also quickly ramping up his online fund raising to great affect, Johnson said.
Clinton has also used the Internet to add to her funds.
“Lately, though, she hasn’t been emphasizing it as much,” said Johnson. “She is the establishment candidate and is raising money the establishment way.”
For now, at least, the establishment way brings a better return.