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Would Ron Paul run as a third-party candidate?

Rep. Ron Paul doesn’t pull his punches.

Rep. Ron Paul doesn’t pull his punches. The Texas Republican and presidential candidate with the near-cult-like following believes a letter from GOP leaders to the Federal Reserve urging no more stimulus is “too little too late” – by about 40 years.

He says he won’t run for president as a third-party candidate, because he would be excluded from the debates and because it takes great personal wealth to mount a credible independent candidacy. But he wouldn’t be surprised if a wealthy person did jump in “because of this chaos in the economic system.”

And he insists he hasn’t had any cross words with the GOP front-runner and fellow Texan, Gov. Rick Perry, despite a photo from the Sept. 7 debate that showed Governor Perry jabbing his finger at Congressman Paul. “That’s just a characteristic,” Paul said at a Monitor-hosted breakfast Wednesday. “If he talked to you, he’d probably do the same thing. He’d probably grab you.”

In this, his third run for the presidency, the libertarian-leaning Paul is like a kid in a candy shop. He has never had a bigger or more intense following, though polls show he’s a long-shot for the nomination. But no matter. He is raising money like never before, in day-long bursts called “money bombs,” and among young voters he is a rock star.

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“The success of this message and the freedom movement is way beyond my expectations,” says Paul. “Who would have ever dreamed that after 100 years we’d be talking about the Federal Reserve at debates.“

Paul sees no reason why he can’t make it into the top tier of presidential candidates. “I think it’s exposure, and I think that’s where we’re making great progress, because we usually have the biggest rallies.” Four years ago, he says, 6,000 or 7,000 people came to see him in Philadelphia. “Zero coverage!”

True, the mainstream media often downplay Paul in their reporting, but now “there’s a thing called the Internet, there’s alternative media,” he says. “And believe me, it’s helped tremendously.”

“Another person that sort of made my case … was [Daily Show host] Jon Stewart,” Paul says. “I mean, how could anything be so … dramatic?”

So how does he explain the growth of his movement – and why does he have so many supporters who are young enough to be his grandchildren? Because, he says, he has a different kind of message – different from both the Republicans and the Democrats.

“They’re not talking about free-market economics,” says Paul. “They’re not talking about how the middle class gets wiped out, they’re not talking about a foreign policy that would defend this country and not pretend that we can police the world forever.”

“Something has to give there, and the American people are sick and tired of all that,” he continues. “They’re sick and tired of the Fed and the spending and the debt and a 10-year war that we’re not going to win, and they know it and these young people know it. They know what they’re getting.”

Paul says he gets a lot of his energy from young people “who have not had their minds clouded with a lot of other cliches into thinking of what government should do and shouldn’t do.”

The congressman says some people don’t want to hear what he has to say, things like: “There’s too many special interests who benefit by the current status quo, and they’re called Republicans and Democrats in the leadership position.”

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And others, Paul says, don’t have the vaguest idea what he’s talking about. No wonder, when he throws around names from the Austrian school of economic thought, which was big in the late 19th and early 20th century – names like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.

Paul blames himself for this lack of understanding. “That’s what I work on the most, is trying to refine my message. But I don’t think it’s a complicated message.”

Which brings him back to young people. He says when he asks them, “If you print a lot of money, do you think this will solve our problem?” they say, “How can that solve our problem? It sounds like Monopoly. You know, Monopoly money.”

Presidential victory or not, Paul is leaving Congress at the end of this term, his 12th. Like all good presidential candidates, he won’t discuss the “what ifs” if he doesn’t win. But the wiry, energetic septuagenarian doesn’t sound as if he’s really ready to retire. “I will be busy,” he says.