And they are starting to have a real impact.
Paul’s libertarian-leaning presidential bid, while notable for its novelty and the amount of money he raised, was never given a chance. By contrast, his son Rand PaulRand PaulWe can put America first by preventing public health disasters Conservative activists want action from Trump McConnell: 'Big challenge' to pass ObamaCare repeal in Senate MORE and adviser Peter Schiff are starting to be seen and felt in two of the biggest Senate races in the country.
Rand Paul has already raised nearly $770,000 and is on pace to report a quarterly total of about $1 million for the GOP primary to replace Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.). In addition, a SurveyUSA poll late last month showed him within striking distance of the establishment favorite, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, trailing 37-26.
Schiff, meanwhile, is approaching the $1 million mark before he is even an officially announced candidate in the race against Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
Both keep running tabs of their fundraising online, which is highly unusual for a federal candidate. And that’s not the only thing that sets them apart.
Schiff and Paul are harnessing the energy that propelled Ron Paul to more than $35 million raised in the presidential race and hoping it translates better to a smaller-scale, but still high-profile, Senate race. Ron Paul didn’t win any states, but his acolytes say focusing on one state could pay dividends.
“I couldn’t do this without his presidential election,” said Rand Paul, an eye surgeon from Bowling Green, Ky. “This is the second wave that comes off of that. And it is different and easier for us because the perception from the beginning is that it’s basically just about a dead-even race for us.”
That might not quite be the case. There are still plenty of doubters that the Ron Paul movement can win a statewide race, including some who have worked with the candidates.
But the campaigns are aiming for a little more pragmatism and a more traditional campaign style in hopes that they can go places the presidential campaign couldn’t.
Neither is a favorite at this point, but both are raising money at a faster clip than anyone else in their respective primary fields, and circumstances could lead to crowded primaries that could give either a glimmer of hope.
Rand Paul has been much more active in getting his name out — as evidenced by the poll numbers — while Schiff plans to do this in the near future. But even though Schiff is getting a later start on the ground, he is running in a crowded and competitive primary field where anything could feasibly happen.
His brother, Andrew Schiff, said 25 or 30 percent of the vote could win the GOP primary to face Dodd. Also running are former Rep. Rob Simmons, former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley and state Sen. Sam Caligiuri.
Andrew Schiff also said that the environment could actually be better for a Ron Paul-like candidate in 2010. He said the economic downturn helps a man who, as an investment adviser, made a name for himself by predicting such trouble.
“When Ron Paul was running, the economic crash was still theoretical,” Andrew Schiff said. “Now it’s not a theoretical; it’s an actual. That’s something in our favor.”
But whatever is going on with the campaign’s coffers or the environment, plenty of questions remain about how competent a candidate Peter Schiff — or Rand Paul — will be.
Chris Healy, the chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, said the jury’s out and that Schiff has plenty of work to do getting known.
“He has no political footprint at all in Connecticut; he hasn’t voted, contributed or participated in anything political in our state,” Healy said. “He has written books and appeared on television and has a business of which we know little.”
Another source wasn’t so charitable. The source, who is close to Schiff’s campaign but disgruntled, said the inmates are running the asylum and that both Schiff and Paul are “too untraditional to have a chance.”
“They refuse to run traditional races, meaning that they will rely on volunteers to conduct critically important campaign operations — much like the Ron Paul campaign did in 2008,” the source said. “Every campaign needs volunteers, but unfortunately for Schiff and Paul, their volunteers scare the crap out of traditional Republicans.”
It’s clear that both are running as outsiders, and they fit the description.
Kentucky Senate candidate Grayson will be the beneficiary of a fundraiser at National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) headquarters this month, with more than half of the GOP Senate caucus in attendance. In the Connecticut race, Simmons is a former lawmaker, and Foley was a big-time fundraiser for former President Bush.
Ron Paul said his movement needs to win some races in order for it to be seen as a mainstream alternative to GOP leadership.
“We’ve got to continue the growth in the number of people involved and get more people elected,” Ron Paul said. “In many ways, things are falling in place for us, if we do our job right.”