As voters head to the polls on Tuesday, they will face one of the most open fields of candidates in recent history. On the Republican ticket, voters will see two lesser-known candidates — a libertarian-leaning congressman who is engaging supporters in unprecedented ways online, and a former assistant secretary of state who did some of his undergraduate work at Cornell during Vietnam War protests.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who also ran for president in 1988 as a Libertarian and is a medical doctor, has served as a noticeable voice of dissent among the Republican candidates, especially for his views on economic and foreign policy issues and strict adherence to constitutional principles. Paul has said he wants to reduce the size of the federal government by eliminating the individual income tax and reducing government spending and regulation.
“We can’t expect the government to do everything. We have to [have] faith and confidence that the market works, but you can’t do any of that unless you look at the monetary system,” Paul said in a CNN debate Wednesday night.
Paul consistently raises the issue of U.S. dollar inflation in debates, lamenting what he calls the excessive government printing of currency and urging a return to a system closer to the gold standard. However, on social issues, Paul is more closely aligned with his Republican counterparts. He opposes abortion rights, gay marriage and federal funding of stem cell research.
At Cornell, support for Paul is “fairly good” for a college campus, given the unusually leftist environment in higher education, said Nigel Watt ’10, who is involved in an informal Ron Paul student support group on campus.
According to Watt, most students at Cornell subscribe to the political mentality of identifying problems and using other people’s money to fix the problems.
The group, while not as active as Watt said he would like it to be, worked to raise awareness about Paul last semester. They wrote Paul’s name and website in sidewalk chalk in front of University buildings and distributed campaign literature on campus.
“[Paul] is the best chance to stop the decline of our economy,” Watt said. “I think the other candidates aren’t saying anything about the destruction of the dollar through overspending and they won’t stop the massive debt in this country.”
Paul has received national media attention for his considerable financial and organizational success on the Internet. In December, he broke the record for the most single-day fundraising, amassing nearly $6 million in a 24-hour period. He has also appealed to younger voters with his appearance in a dorm room interview that appeared on YouTube and support from Facebook users. According to ABC News, Paul is the most popular Republican candidate on Facebook, though he is in a distant fourth place in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll of likely voters.
Watt does not think Paul necessarily is reaching out to young voters, but rather they are finding him.
“Most people found out about him from other people and by looking up information about him,” he said.
Paul’s success in cyberspace, however, has not necessarily translated into electoral success. Paul has finished in fourth and fifth places in nominating contests held thus far and does not have any pledged delegates, according to The New York Times.
Watt pointed out what he views as a mainstream media bias against Paul.
Watt said that Paul’s ideas, based on reason rather than sound bites, have been lost in the mainstream media’s tendency to report policy things in a simplistic manner.
“It’s not a purposeful bias, but one based on ignorance and maybe laziness,” he said.
Other Republican presidential hopeful Alan Keyes has significantly less support than Paul, yet he is not a stranger to the nominating process, having run for president in 1996 and 2000.
Keyes, a former assistant secretary of state and radio talk show host, is considered a staunch conservative. Keyes wants to end the welfare system, replace the income tax with a national sales tax and is a supporter of the death penalty. Keyes opposes gays in the military, abortion rights and sex education in public schools, according to The Boston Globe.
Keyes briefly attended Cornell in the late 1960s and early 1970s as an undergraduate student. According to The Boston Globe, Keyes received death threats for opposing a takeover of Willard Straight Hall by Vietnam War protesters. He subsequently transferred to Harvard University where he received a degree in governmental affairs in 1972.
According to his website, Keyes is currently focusing on the March 4 Texas primary.
“For all intents and purposes, the headquarters of the Keyes campaign has moved to Texas,” a campaign press release said.