NASHUA, N.H. – Pumped up by a record day of online fundraising, Republican presidential contender Ron Paul said Wednesday he hopes to do well in a New Hampshire campaign in which he's emerging as a potential spoiler — or more.
Still, in an Associated Press interview, he was careful not to set expectations too high.
"It certainly would be a tremendous boost to do very well here, but I don't think that makes or breaks a campaign like ours," he said.
Paul, a Texas congressman considered an extreme long-shot for the presidency, said much of his support comes from people frightened about the economy — jobs, health care and the prospect of $100-a-barrel oil.
"We have to stop spending the money excessively. We have to stop printing the money," said Paul, who favors returning to the gold standard to shore up the dollar.
Besides economics, Paul's main issue in Republican debates this year has been the strongest demand among GOP candidates for quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
After the interview, Paul spoke to about 150 students at Nashua South High School and won applause for his remarks on Iraq. He said if he's elected, U.S. troops wouldn't come home in a day but could be withdrawn in two to three months.
In Wednesday's interview, he also dismissed Pakistan's embattled president as "nothing more than a puppet government for the United States."
He declined to say he would immediately end U.S. aid to Pakistan under President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, though he has long called for ending all foreign aid and using the money at home. He reiterated that call on Wednesday: "We should end it all. It's not authorized by the Constitution."
Paul's volunteer-led fundraising blitz Monday brought in $4.3 million, considered a one-day record for a GOP candidate. He currently ranks fourth in the state with 7 percent support in a poll last month by SRBI Research for Saint Anselm College. That put him behind Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain and essentially tied with Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson.
People are suddenly paying attention.
"I could see if Ron Paul gets 10 percent he could finish in fourth place," said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. If Romney, Giuliani or McCain slip up, Paul could do even better, Smith said.
Smith said Paul's anti-establishment image, similar to underdog winner Pat Buchanan's in 1992, appeals to voters unhappy with what the mainstream candidates are offering.
But to do better than that, Paul "really needs to campaign here," Smith said.
Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scientist, said Paul can't rely solely on his anti-establishment message. Paul's message is attractive to young, libertarian and disaffected voters, but he needs mainstream Republicans to support him to get more than 10 percent, said Scala.
"There is a ceiling on his coalition of voters," said Scala. "He's going to have to break through that ceiling and, at least in New Hampshire, reach out to more moderate Republicans."
Paul may find, as Democrat Howard Dean did in 2004, that raising money nationally on the Internet doesn't always win votes in a particular state.
Without winning, he simply fulfills the roll of an ideological candidate pushing his position, said Smith.
"And then they fade," he said. "Voters want to see someone who can win in November. The nominating process is all about picking a winner."