Columnist: Paul exposes 'over-hype' of Internet's place in politics

Jason Rhyne
Raw Story
Monday November 26, 2007

Near-fanatical support on the Internet has translated into a fundraising and publicity boom for GOP presidential contender Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) -- but can the libertarian-leaning Republican parlay his online celebrity status into votes?

Despite Paul's record one-day $4 million fundraising haul and a spate of recent media attention, the congressman's online triumphs won't mean much when real world primary ballots are tallied, according to a column in Roll Call by political insider Stuart Rothenberg.

"Single-handedly, the quirky libertarian Republican from Texas has unintentionally exposed the over-hype that accompanies much of the talk about politics and the Internet," Rothenberg writes. "Paul has been doing well in post-debate call-ins and Internet 'polls' for months, and his Web site has been scoring more hits than a bong at a Grateful Dead concert...But big-sounding numbers can be deceiving, and politics is more about breadth of support than depth. Ultimately, elections are about winning votes, not Web visitors or even campaign dollars."

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Like many beltway political pundits, Rothenberg, the 59-year-old publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report, is dismissive of Paul's presidential prospects. He notes that while Paul's fundraising muscle has been impressive, it still doesn't stack up with top tier candidates from either party.

"Yes, $4 million is a lot of money to raise in a single day," he concedes. "But it pales in comparison to the overall fundraising of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who didn’t need a one-day fundraising event to get media attention."

Adds the columnist: "Still, let’s give the Texan credit for his fundraising. But what does that mean if he also has no chance of becoming the GOP presidential nominee, or even of winning a single primary contest?"

Rothenberg contends that Paul's Internet success can be attributed to staunch support from libertarians, as well as from liberals enamored with the congressman's vocal opposition to the war in Iraq.

"I’ll bet that many who voted for and contributed to Paul in the past (he raised more than $2 million for his House races in 1998 and 2000) are investing in his presidential campaign this time," Rothenberg writes, "and he almost certainly is drawing support from liberals who connect with his views on the war in Iraq, from frustrated Americans who simply don’t like 'the system,' and from some Republicans who are at the libertarian extreme of their party."

But what's missing in Paul's block of support, continues the columnist, is Republicans.

"Sorry, but you can’t win a Republican presidential nomination by relying on the support of non-Republicans," he adds. "Nor can you win if you finish fifth in the Iowa straw poll (in which three credible candidates didn’t participate) and third in your home state’s straw poll behind Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.)."

Although Rothenberg says the Internet has given the Paul campaign a considerable boost, he maintains that it hasn't made the congressman a legitimate presidential contender.

"The Internet undoubtedly has made it easier for Paul supporters to connect with the campaign and with each other, and it’s become a terrific way to raise cash for a candidate with emotional followers," he concludes. "But Web chatter, declarations of undying support on Facebook and even surprising fundraising totals don’t make a serious contender out of a candidate from the political fringe. Ultimately, it’s about votes."

Read the full column in Roll Call (subscription required).

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