Ron Paul, the Political Wild Card in This Presidential Election

If they stay home, it could cripple John McCain's candidacy.

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While most Republicans are likely to consider Rep. Ron Paul of Texas a mere pest, his devoted followers could be a problem for Sen. John McCain in November.

Paul, the GOP congressman with the squeaky voice but with a following of vocal supporters, will not go away. He's suspended his presidential campaign but his crusade goes on.

Paul got into the presidential race with no chance of winning. But his opposition to the war in Iraq, his isolationist foreign policy, and his leave-us-alone views on the domestic front won him faithful supporters during the debates earlier this year.

Based on those performances, the Paul campaign raised millions of dollars, especially on the Internet. As of the end of April, he had pulled in $35 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks these things. It was one of the surprises in this campaign with many twists and turns.

Now Paul's band of followers are planning their own little rump convention in September, when the GOP meets in the Twin Cities to certify McCain. While the real convention meets in St. Paul, the Paul crowd plans a meeting on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.

The Paul meeting is certain to draw some coverage during the highly programmed main event across the river. The media loves a little controversy amid an orchestrated convention.

Earlier, Paul's website reports a rally next month in Washington. It is called a rally for "freedom, peace, and prosperity."

The Libertarian Party has already endorsed former Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, a crusty right winger, as its presidential nominee. But Barr has little following compared with Paul, a previous Libertarian candidate who has not endorsed the Georgian.

Paul has serious disagreements with the nominees of both major parties. It is hard to see him back either McCain or Barack Obama. Paul is certain to win re-election in his congressional district south of Houston. He'll barely have to sweat.

The Republican nightmare is for Paul backers to stay at home in a close presidential election. It could happen, since everything else has this campaign.