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WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- Ron Paul announced another run for president this morning, which is great for the Republican hopeful's rabid followers but doesn't offer a lot of information for Americans still unsure what he's all about.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul has spent 14 terms endearing his libertarian-minded fiscal policies to his constituents in Texas and roughly the past five years spreading the gospel of economic forbearance to a broader national following that loves him for it. The supporters he picked up during the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries of the 2008 presidential election were drawn to his calls for decreased federal debt, reined-in spending (including military cuts that put him at odds with the GOP establishment) and overall smaller government.
Ron Paul has an uphill battle in another run for president, starting with the fact a poll shows he's popular with only about 5% of potential Republican voters.
His message hasn't changed, but America's stance toward it certainly has. The economic crisis that ushered in the tea party movement and helped install some of its acolytes in office during the midterm elections brought many of Paul's criticisms of public programs, foreign policy and the monetary system to the fore. While some of his views are still considered extreme even in conservative circles -- ending foreign aid, immediately withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, defending legalization of drugs including heroin (as he did last week during a Republican debate on
Fox News(NWS - Get Report)) -- elements of his platform are becoming more palatable to mainstream Republicans and voters.
"I think there was more of a consensus on foreign affairs four years ago within the Republican party and Congressman Paul was outside that consensus, and it disqualified him from being considered a serious candidate," says Trey Grayson, director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "Four years later, especially after the death of Osama bin Laden, there's a lot less consistency in the Republican party on foreign affairs."
Few can offer as much insight into Paul's popularity as Grayson, who served as Kentucky's secretary of state from 2003 until January, capping his second term with a run against Paul's son Rand Paul in a race for the vacant Senate seat of Republican stalwart Jim Bunning. Despite endorsements from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Grayson lost the election by 23 points as Rand Paul's popularity with tea party supporters and libertarians swept him into office.
Congressman Paul is still popular with only about 5% of potential Republican voters and, according to a Rassmussen Reports
poll conducted in April, trails President Barack Obama in a matchup 42% to 34%. Still, Grayson says Paul and his followers will grab more of voters' attention than they did during the 2008 campaign, partly because the electorate is more receptive to what they've heard about Paul's platform. But these five things the general public doesn't know about Ron Paul may just be his biggest strengths: