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Is Surging Ron Paul a Reluctant Candidate?

Is Surging Ron Paul a Reluctant Candidate?

By Erin McPike - November 16, 2011


Ron Paul is just shy of the lead in Iowa less than two months before the Republican presidential caucuses, and has risen to second place in New Hampshire. But even as the GOP keeps searching for an alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney, just about no one in politics thinks it will be the 76-year-old congressman from Texas.

He doesn't seem to either.

When RealClearPolitics asked Paul Wednesday morning, after a speech sponsored by the Cato Institute, if he actually wanted to be president, he shrugged and said, "Sure."

Asked by RCP later in the day, as he was leaving a health care-related event in the Rayburn Building in Washington, why he wanted to be president, Paul responded, "I think that's a silly question."

Pressed on the matter, he answered, "It's obvious."

Asked what the obvious answer is, Paul said, "Well if it's not obvious, I think there's a problem with the question. . . . It doesn't make any sense to me." 

At the morning event, other reporters present gasped in apparent disbelief that such an inquiry could be made of a man who just delivered a meaty speech on monetary policy and the Federal Reserve, which Paul considers useless. Then again, none of the reporters who cover the presidential race on a daily basis was present -- perhaps an indication that his candidacy isn’t being taken seriously by many news organizations.

A Daily Caller reporter asked the three-time presidential candidate if he was surprised to find himself leading in the new state polling. Paul replied, "Not entirely," because, he said, he's willing to challenge the status quo.

Though Paul should expect such questions about his surge -- which could tilt votes away from the other leading candidates and change the race's outcome -- he seemingly doesn't. Paul was decidedly disinterested when a Washington Post reporter informed him that he would soon be featured in a profile on the paper's front page and asked if they could talk. Paul ultimately wandered into a cab and left the conference at the National Association of Home Builders headquarters in downtown Washington.

Given the fervent support of Paul’s die-hard backers, few reporters were surprised that Paul finished a close second to Michele Bachmann at the Iowa Straw Poll in August, and the stories that followed were mostly about Tim Pawlenty (who withdrew from the race) and Bachmann, as well as Rick Perry, who entered the race on the same day. Few news outlets devoted space to Paul, earning heavy criticism from his supporters and a critical note from the Post's ombudsman.

Paul's fans continue to harangue the media for refusing to pay much attention to him, but whether the candidate wants it remains a mystery. (The same can't be said for how he feels about his libertarian-leaning ideas.)

Paul wasn't anywhere near the cornfields of Iowa or the covered bridges of New Hampshire when he addressed the Cato crowd, but even when his presidential rivals swoop into the nation's capital for a speech, they tend to remind their audiences that they are running for president. It's something most people in this position simply can't stay quiet about. But more important, addressing a conference is an opening to get to more donors and support from activists or coalitions.

And yet, Paul didn't emulate Mitt Romney, who likes to tell listeners he is running for nation’s highest office, perhaps so they can get used to the idea; or Rick Perry, who said he'll bring what he did in Texas to Washington. Paul never asked for a vote, never asked for the support of the people in the room, and never talked about what his administration would do come 2013.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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