As Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Texas) fame grows nationally — courtesy of his quixotic yet well-funded presidential campaign — some Republicans are wondering whether the spotlight has imperiled his political standing at home and jeopardized his re-election in the 14th district.
Paul, unlikely to win the GOP presidential nomination despite a solid fundraising effort that has seen the libertarian-leaning Republican set single day contribution records, is planning to run for re-election in the Southeastern Texas 14th district. But he could face a serious challenge in the March 4 GOP primary from Friendswood City Councilman Chris Peden, who is questioning Paul’s commitment to core Republican principles.
Former House aide Andy Mann, who had been running in the 14th district GOP primary, is preparing to drop out of the race and endorse Peden — strengthening Peden, who is likely to be the lone anti-Paul candidate in the primary.
“Obviously, the presidential campaign has given a lot of people a much better understanding and idea of what Dr. Paul believes,” said one Republican insider based in his district. “It will be interesting to see how what he’s said on the stump in the presidential arena will impact his run for Congress.”
The 14th district is solid Republican territory, running through small towns and along rural regions of the Texas coast, from Corpus Christi to Galveston and the outskirts of the Houston suburbs.
Paul, a gynecologist and obstetrician by trade, is far from a conventional Republican.
He was the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 1988 and usually is at odds with his fellow House Republicans because he believes most appropriations bills and authorizations to use military force, respectively, spend too much money or are unconstitutional.
But Paul has excelled electorally for 10 terms because his constituents appreciate his skill as a retail politician and his willingness to speak his mind. Paul won re-election last year with 60 percent of the vote, his lowest margin of victory since 1996, when he garnered 51 percent.
Paul’s Congressional office referred questions for this story to his Congressional campaign, which did not respond to a phone call requesting comment. But one Republican strategist familiar with the Congressman and his district predicted that Paul would prevail in his primary, if for no other reason than he should have plenty of money left over from his presidential bid to spend on his House re-election.
Paul closed the third quarter of the year with just under $80,000 in his Congressional campaign account. But he has been raising millions for his presidential bid — including $6 million in just one day this week — and federal regulations allow Paul to spend that money on a Congressional bid if he so chooses.
“His support is pretty strong, he’s done a good job there in the district,” the Republican strategist said. “I’d be a little bit more optimistic if [his GOP primary opponent] could have raised a little more money.”
Peden closed the third quarter with just $363 in cash on hand, while raising just $8,654 for the period. But Dallas Frohrib, a spokesman for the Peden campaign, said this week that the Friendswood councilman is now sitting on a war chest of $110,000, and climbing.
Peden, an accountant with his own firm, unseated an incumbent councilman in his successful run for local office and is described as a good candidate with much potential. The only outside help he appears to be getting at present is from The Magnolia Group, a Dallas-based firm that has been retained to assist with fundraising.
Frohrib conceded that Peden’s campaign was slow-starting but said the pace has been accelerating as the primary approaches. There has been an increase in the number of volunteers making themselves available to Peden and a significant uptick in fundraising, Frohrib said, but the candidate’s biggest challenges are a lack of name recognition and whether he can raise enough money to communicate his message.
Republicans who have their eye on the 14th district GOP primary agree that if Peden has an ally in this race, it would be Paul himself. Frohrib described the district’s voters as very patriotic and argued that Paul’s opposition to the Iraq War has hurt him politically.
“They’ve called him ‘Dr. No’ around here; now people are calling him ‘L. Ron Paul,” Frohrib said, likening Paul to L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction novelist who founded the Church of Scientology. “There’s a lot of discontent. The ground has shifted a little bit underneath him.”
Although Paul’s positions on major domestic and foreign policy issues always have been somewhat unorthodox, the widespread attention those views have received under the microscope of his presidential run have led at least some 14th district voters to question their support of the Congressman, Frohrib and some local GOP insiders contend.
In particular, many have taken notice of Paul’s claim in one of the Republican presidential debates that U.S. foreign policy was partially responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Some say this has caused traditional and moderate Republicans in the district to second-guess their long-standing support for Paul.
If Peden does have a path to victory, it is to appeal to voters along these lines, offering himself up as a mainstream Republican who will better represent their values.
“Peden is pretty sharp,” the Republican strategist said. “He’s a really good guy … and is working the district hard.”