(CNSNews.com) - If unscientific online polls were a determining factor, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas would easily be a top tier candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. But they aren't -- and he isn't.
Despite coming in first place in a post-debate poll on MSNBC and in other online surveys, Paul hovers around two percent or less in surveys conducted by Gallup, Harris, Zogby and other leading polling firms.
At the same time, however, he has a large network of "meet up" groups across the country, heavy traffic on his campaign website and new-found media attention since comments during a Fox News Channel GOP debate this week that appeared to blame U.S. foreign policy for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The statement, which drew a strong response from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, might have torpedoed the chances of a top-tier candidate, but Paul still came in a close second in an online poll immediately after the debate.
This indicates a large body of supporters, Paul campaign spokesman Jesse Benton said Thursday.
"Ron Paul has more passionate supporters who are more likely to send in text messages and emails into the polls," Benton told Cybercast News Service. "That may skew it, but we're not going to apologize that our supporters are more passionate than Rudy Giuliani's supporters."
Benton said the Paul campaign has not engaged in an organized effort to encourage people to vote in online polls. He also scoffed at accusations from bloggers that Paul supporter were spamming Web sites. "This is not a handful of people. This is a grassfire movement," he said.
Paul, 71, is a 10-term Republican House member and was the 1988 Libertarian Party presidential nominee. He stands apart from the rest of the GOP field, having opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning. He also has called for the immediate abolition of the Internal Revenue Services and other federal programs, declaring himself the "true conservative" in the race because he wants to return the GOP to its non-interventionist roots.
Paul's campaign claims more YouTube subscribers than the campaigns of any other presidential candidates. (A YouTube subscriber is someone who gets automatic email alerts on a topic of their choice when a new video on that topic is posted on the popular video-sharing site.) Also, more Ron Paul videos are posted on YouTube than all but two of the GOP candidates, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
In another indication of massive online interest, "Ron Paul" is also the top search on Technorati, a blog search engine that says it indexes more than 75 million blogs. On Friday, Ron Paul was at the number one position on Technorati, ahead of the likes of Paris Hilton and American Idol.
Paul has $524,919 on hand, according to his most recent campaign filing, far less than the millions raised by the top-tier candidates, McCain, Romney and Giuliani. At the same time, when compared to the six other second-tier GOP hopefuls, the Texan raised the most money during the first quarter in 14 states, including Florida and Texas, and the second-highest amount in Montana and New Hampshire.
Paul's campaign website has significantly higher traffic than those of the other second-tier candidates, and rivals the hits on the McCain, Giuliani, Romney sites, according to Alexa.com, a site that monitors web traffic.
Paul has come under heavy scrutiny since Tuesday night's debate, when he answered a question about whether his non-interventionist foreign policy view should change after 9/11.
"The reason they attacked us is because we were over there," Paul responded. "We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years."
On Thursday, the Michigan Republican Party's chairman, Saul Anuzis, circulated a petition to members of the Republican National Committee insisting that Paul be banned from future debates because of those comments.
But in the view of Chuck Muth, president of the Washington-based Citizen Outreach, the 9/11 remarks brought Paul more attention than he has ever had.
"Among Ron Paul supporters, it won't hurt him at all," Muth said in an interview. "If people thought he had a chance of winning, it might worry them. But Ron Paul supporters are backing him to make a statement."
Though Muth believes Paul's foreign policy views are not practical during the war on terror, he believes the congressman brings a lot to the race. However, he said he would like to see the candidate focus less on the war and more on issues popular with Republican voters like getting rid of the income tax.
"When there is a vote in the House of 534-1, he's usually the one," Muth noted. "There is a huge network of support for Paul. Ron Paul has spent years developing a national following."
Even being the target of the party frontrunner during the debate will only boost Paul status. "It was a fair shot for Rudy Giuliani to take. But Ron Paul should turn the tables on him and point out how he's for limited government and Rudy Giuliani is not."
Meanwhile, the popular conservative blog Little Green Footballs on Wednesday took Paul's name off the list of presidential candidates in its online poll because, it said, "his supporters are deliberately spamming our polls to make it appear as if Paul has more support than he does."
That decision prompted more than two dozen angry emails - many obscene - from Paul supporters, the blog said Thursday. Little Green Footballs said that Paul backers had not voted multiple times, but had rather sent out emails and posted a link to the poll on their own websites, urging people to vote for Paul.
"You have to look at where the criticism is coming from. It's a neo-con site," said Paul spokesman Benton. "We've had a flood of response after the [9/11] comment, about 75 percent positive and 25 percent negative saying Ron is a disgrace and we should just keep bombing people."
Paul has recently won unscientific polls on the political website PajamasMedia.com, but the site said it had removed him and others from recent polls because they did not meet the criteria it had set - at least one percent in Gallup polls - to compete.
Support on the web is the key to any grassroots campaign, said Tracy Weston, an expert on the Internet and politics and professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications.
"The candidate is either organizing this and everyone knows to hit the phones and web to build up the buzz, or groups that are committed to him create the traffic," Weston told Cybercast News Service . "He's a contrarian candidate and has staked out positions some hardcore Republicans and even some hardcore Democrats would like. A distinctive campaign at the bottom tier can build. How far he goes depends on how good he is."
digg_skin = 'compact'
Make media inquiries or request an interview with Fred Lucas.
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-brief.
E-mail a comment or news tip to Fred Lucas.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.