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A Far-Right Texan Inspires Antiwar Left

WASHINGTON -- A far-right Republican congressman from Texas is looking like a voice of reason to the antiwar left.

Ron Paul is a political iconoclast who takes his libertarian ideology seriously. He's a cheerful advocate of all sorts of unpopular causes like abolishing the federal minimum wage and returning to the gold standard.

That few of his ideas will ever catch on doesn't deter him one bit. Rep. Paul's nickname is "Dr. No" because he votes against so many things, often alone. Despite his lack of clout in Congress, he ran as the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate in 1988, drawing less than one half of 1% of the vote.

But on an Iraq war Mr. Paul is finding plenty of allies, especially at the other end of the political spectrum. Unlike his fellow Texas Republican in the White House, the retired obstetrician believes Saddam Hussein poses no direct threat to Americans and wants the U.S. to mind its own business. A fiscal conservative, he also believes the country can't afford the war's potentially staggering cost.

"Ultimately, our money, weapons, and interventionist policies never buy us friends for long," Mr. Paul wrote in one of his recent columns, which are published on a range of Web sites, including libertarian and Christian. "And more often we simply arm our future enemies."

Rep. Paul attracts special attention across the Atlantic, far more than in the mainstream U.S. media that largely ignores him. Writings such as his 35 "Questions That Won't Be Asked About Iraq" have appeared in French, German, Russian, Italian and Swiss publications. The congressman's 3,200-word "Statement Opposing the Use of Military Force in Iraq" was posted on the progressive New Zealand publication Scoop, two days after its Oct. 8 delivery on the House floor.

Mr. Paul has even inspired an antiwar group, the Washington-based National Peace Lobby Project. It was formed Feb. 6 to promote a resolution introduced by Mr. Paul and Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio that would repeal the authorization of military force in Iraq that Congress granted to Mr. Bush last year.

Project founder Jenifer Deal is a Washington actress and D.C. Green Party official. "What we have here is a nexus of ideological concerns," Ms. Deal says of her alliance with Mr. Paul. It doesn't faze her that she disagrees with the congressman on almost every other subject. "If he were a fascist Klansman, I would obviously have misgivings," she says. "But I actually think Ron Paul has tremendous moral courage."

Mr. Paul's aggressive stand, a stark contrast to most mainstream politicians reluctant to challenge the president, hasn't hurt him with his southeast Texas constituents -- in fact, he is more popular than ever.

In November, weeks after joining just five other Republicans voting against giving Mr. Bush authority to go to war, Mr. Paul was re-elected with 68% of the vote. It was his most lopsided victory ever. "It's so clear where he is, and that works for him," says Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a liberal Texas Democrat from an adjoining district.

Mr. Paul believes that, privately, he has much broader support within his party. "If this had been a Clinton war, the majority of Republicans would be with me," he says, noting that most of his colleagues refused to support North Atlantic Treaty Organization airstrikes in Kosovo.

Mr. Paul's swath of rural Texas stretches southeast from Austin to the Gulf of Mexico. The region is populated by farmers and small-town folk who voted twice against President Clinton and overwhelmingly backed Mr. Bush. Mr. Doggett describes the mood as "rugged individualism and independence of the Texas frontier spirit."

Mr. Paul, in an interview, attributes his record re-election margin to the combined forces of independent-minded "Ross Perot types" and Democrats who are upset that their national party leaders aren't rigorously challenging Mr. Bush on Iraq. Local Republicans, too, have misgivings about their former governor's actions. "I think people are a little apprehensive about what's going on," says Mary Wyatt, leader of the Republican Party in Victoria County. "President Bush has a tremendous level of support here, but everyone is concerned."

When the Texas Republican Party sent a questionnaire to state politicians in 2000 on core issues, Mr. Paul, 67 years old, wound up 95% in sync with the party platform, helped by his opposition to abortion and his staunch support of gun-owners rights. Plus, there is his advocacy for the smallest possible government. He refused to accept Medicare and Medicaid when he ran his medical practice and won't apply for a government pension.

For all his Washington bashing, Mr. Paul is known in his district as an effective congressman. Paul staffers are whizzes at tracking down a Social Security check. And while he votes against all spending bills, he has found a way to deliver some of the highway and Army Corps of Engineering pork that his sprawling coastal district craves. He gets the money shifted from previously authorized funds that were originally directed elsewhere.

Don Truman, another Victoria Republican who runs a family storage business, didn't support Mr. Paul earlier in the legislator's career, but has grown to admire how he sticks to his beliefs. "He's consistent and he's a very honorable person," says Mr. Truman. "People are willing to give him a little more allowance on certain things because they respect him."

The goodwill isn't universal. Some Republicans have cast support for the war as a patriotic litmus test. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, also of Texas, last September called Mr. Bush's Iraq critics "hand-wringers and appeasers." Mr. Paul says he has never exchanged harsh words personally with his Republican colleagues. After Mr. Paul and the five other Republicans voted against the Iraq resolution, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said on Fox News that he respected the group's stance.

Mr. Paul doesn't even bother to attend the administration's war briefings: "I don't want to get confused by their propaganda." His alliance with the left -- the "NPR crowd," as aide Jeff Deist calls it -- makes him a little uncomfortable, but not so much that he's backing down. He may even attend an antiwar student rally in a few weeks, at the liberal oasis of the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Write to Shailagh Murray at shailagh.murray@wsj.com

Updated March 10, 2003