WORLD

A presidential front-runner (on the Web)

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE July 9 2007
WORLD

A presidential front-runner (on the Web)

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE July 9 2007

A presidential front-runner (on the Web)

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE

If presidential elections were held online, Ron Paul might have a shot. The 71-year-old congressman from Texas launched his bid for the Republican nomination in March with $10,000 and a libertarian track record so zealous that his name sometimes appears next to words like “moonbat.” An obstetrician by training, Paul bucked his party to vote against the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. He wants to dismantle NAFTA, the Federal Reserve, and most of the federal government. He’s at three per cent in the polls—but in cyberspace Paul is a star.

His name is the subject of more blog searches than Paris Hilton, his YouTube videos are the most watched, and for a while he got more love than Barack Obama on Facebook. His wildfire ascent has sparked debates over whether he is touching a grassroots anti-war nerve or whether a few fans simply put down their copies of Atlas Shrugged long enough to blitzkrieg online polls. Either way, Paul is pushing the party to grapple with George W. Bush’s foreign interventionism and government bloat. His

clash with Rudy Giuliani over whether Islamist terrorism is blowback for U.S. foreign policy was one of the most commented-on moments in the televised debates.

Others want in on the cyber-buzz. Democratic hopeful Mike Gravel, 77, a former senator from Alaska, has less than one per cent support, $500 in cash and debts of $90,000. He is running on universal health care, legalizing drugs, and amending the constitution to allow national ballot initiatives. In a mysterious online ad calculated to get people talking, he stares blankly into the camera for a full minute before inexplicably dropping a large rock into a pond. In another, he lights a campfire and, for the next seven minutes, simply lets it burn. Now bloggers are linking to the ads—and Paul looks a lot less weird. M