In the first two months of the quarter that began Oct. 1, Paul already has raised more than $9.75 million, putting him easily within range to best the amount rival Mitt Romney received from donors during the entire third quarter.
The Texas congressman has set a goal of raising $12 million before the fourth quarter’s Dec. 31 deadline, a sum New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani couldn’t achieve in the third quarter when fundraising events still dominated his schedule.
Paul’s chief e-bundler, music promoter Trevor Lyman, hopes to raise $2.5 million by day’s end with the campaign’s second online money bomb - though initial indications were that this latest fundraising move would fall well short of its target.
Of course, Romney can still buy the fourth quarter title by making a multimillion-dollar donation to himself, which is widely expected.
And it could be that Paul’s striking, eleventh-hour surge may have come too late to dramatically change the campaign dynamics.
Nevertheless, Paul’s staff is racing to put up more advertisements before the Christmas season shuts down campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Paul threatens to peel away libertarian-minded independent voters sought by his rival John McCain, who is now less well-funded.
And Republicans find themselves asking an unexpected question: Could Ron Paul have a real impact on who the party nominates?
Paul’s last stand provides fresh evidence of how the Internet can transform a dark horse candidate and make him harder to knock off.
“It’s highly improbable that he will get into the first tier. But he’s colorful,” says David Gergen, a former White House adviser.
He’s certainly not the Republican Party’s first renegade. Indeed, there is a certain familiarity to the rebellious rank-and-file pushback inside the Paul insurgency.
Think Pat Buchanan circa 1992 and his launch of the “cultural wars” against gays and feminists; and Buchanan again circa 1996 when he upset Bob Dole in New Hampshire with the cry: “All the peasants are coming with pitchforks. We're going to take this over the top."
Think John McCain circa 2000 and his Straight Talk Express and upset victory in New Hampshire over Bush that prompted the first-recorded gusher of online giving.
Given the right candidate or call to action, populist Republicans have a colorful history of shaking off the party yoke and reveling in a wild-and-crazy moment.
That helps explain why a quirky Texas congressman who opposes the Iraq war got into the race in the first place.
Same goes for Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, who had hoped to use immigration as the launching pad for an insurgent campaign.
What makes the Paul phenomenon unique this cycle is that there is no clear front-runner who can simply ride out the rowdy rabble until the party’s top-down instincts silence them.
That is creating an intriguing choice for the 72-year-old doctor: Plow ahead on what still seems a quixotic quest for the White House or play spoiler by using his millions to help take out one of the front-runners.
Thus far, Paul is playing it safe, still absorbing what seems to be his dumb luck.
His financial windfalls have come from spontaneous Internet giving or big, online donation days organized by supporters outside his campaign.
Earlier this month, those outsiders orchestrated a one-day, $4 million donation dump, now nicknamed a “money bomb.”
Another is scheduled to take place today and a third later this month.
“It’s a tremendous burden put on us, and a responsibility,” Paul told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough recently.
“We have all this money now. We didn’t pln to have this much money. Our obligation is to figure out how to spend it. We are doing our best.”
Before the first infusion of cash, Paul had begun a modest $1.1 million television ad drive, mostly in New Hampshire.
Since then, the ad campaign has been expanded in Iowa. Pre-money-bomb, Paul was airing three radio ads; now he has more than ten running.
His television messages are mostly biographical, noting his career as a doctor, his record of never voting for a tax increase and his opposition to the Iraq war.
The radio ads have a slightly tougher edge, accusing his opponents of supporting amnesty for illegal aliens (a shot at McCain) and flip-flopping on issues (a dart at Romney).
But some Paul supporters grumble that the advertisements lack punch and they are pressuring the campaign to take on an edgier tone.
His first television commercial showed supporters, some sitting around a diner table, talking up his candidacy. “Look, the man’s a doctor; he understands the health care mess,” says one woman.
“OMG! Common Guys! This is a terrible ad! My goodness. The Ron Paul revolution means a lot more than this,” bemoaned one supporter in a blog posting.
“I got nothin’ but love for Ron Paul, but this is pretty bad,” responded another.
As Paul climbed to fourth place in some New Hampshire polls, his rivals have sensed the new threat.
McCain has stepped up his attacks on his less-known rival and more incoming is sure to follow.
And, of course, there are inherent hazards in having money when you haven’t really planned for it.
Howard Dean raised $41 million in 2003 in the first campaign to fully employ the Internet.
By year’s end, his early advertising campaigns and rapidly expanding operation had eaten all but about $9 million of that cash.
Among his expenditures: stacks of cell phones for Iowa volunteers that wound up stored in an office unused.