On Tuesday, a relatively unknown and poorly financed retired nurse named Debra Medina siphoned off almost 19 percent of the vote from heavyweights Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Texas Republican gubernatorial primary. Medina’s surprisingly strong finish is partly attributable to the surge of Tea Party support around the country, a movement Medina is associated with, as well as to general anti-incumbent feeling. But her 18.6 percent may also owe something to the support and political endorsement of CPAC hero and fellow Texan Ron Paul. Paul wrote an open letter soon after Medina—a top campaign volunteer in Paul’s 2008 presidential race—announced her candidacy, calling her a "defender of liberty" and "role model for Texans across our state.”
Congressman Paul, who handily fended off his own primary challenge Tuesday with 80 percent of the vote, is usually associated with a fleet of college-age, testosterone-fueled supporters. But Medina is just one of a trio of female former Paul volunteers who are waging their own campaigns this year, and advancing Paul’s libertarian brand of Republicanism. In addition to Medina, Valerie Meyers in Georgia and Linda Goldthorpe in Michigan are both seeking U.S. House seats.
Asked if his past as an OB-GYN makes him feel more comfortable around women and vice versa, Paul said, “I hope I’m comfortable. I have a lot of empathy, and I assume they feel some of that.”
Paul, a former OB-GYN with a strong anti-abortion stance, says his message attracts women to his campaign. “Historically, people have always commented that women might be more pro-peace than pro-war, and I think my message has excited a lot of women,” he says. (Paul doesn’t support spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.) “I’m pleased that they’re running,” he says of the three candidates. But he was quick to say it’s just a coincidence that he tends to have women in important staff positions. “People have kidded me over the years… I’ve had a lot of key personnel who have been women. It’s always been coincidental.” Asked if his past as an OB-GYN makes him feel more comfortable around women and vice versa, Paul said, “I hope I’m comfortable. I have a lot of empathy, and I assume they feel some of that.”
His contribution to the field is especially notable this year—which has been a dismal one for the recruitment of Republican women candidates, despite the GOP’s bright prospects overall. The National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program, which recruits and trains the prospects the party deems most likely to win, features only four women, in a class of 64. Adding insult to injury, the Republican National Committee’s co-chairman, Jan Larimer, explained the shortfall in a controversial way: "Women sometimes need a little more hand-holding, or they need their friends to help them make a decision.” She said they were working to recruit more women via workshops, but her words seemed unlikely to help the GOP close its gender gap in Congress any time soon. Republicans lag behind Democrats not only in numbers but also percentages of women in Congress; of the 17 women now serving in the U.S. Senate, only four are Republican; of the 73 women in the House, only 17 caucus with the GOP, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.
For his part, Paul insists he isn’t actively recruiting a fleet of female mini-Rons to run for office. “I don’t personally recruit,” he said. “I encourage everyone to be involved, and when they ask me what to do, I say, ‘That’s your decision.’” Paul became a cult hero during his 2008 campaign for the presidency, when he argued that much of America's social spending was unconstitutional—a claim that has only gained currency since then, as the Tea Party movement formed in the wake of the federal bank bailout and the Obama administration’s health-care plans. The three Paul devotees may not be as purist as their former boss, but all believe in lowering taxes, abolishing or limiting the Department of Education, auditing or abolishing the Federal Reserve, and opposing the “federal takeover” of health care. The Paul agenda--often ignored by the mainstream right-wing--is on the rise; at CPAC last month, 31 percent of the conservative conference-goers backed him as their presidential candidate for 2012.
Paul was quick to come to the defense of Medina, his former top campaign volunteer who lost yesterday’s primary against Perry and Hutchison. Medina, who ran on the platform of abolishing private property taxes and the notion that Texas should be able to ignore "unconstitutional" federal laws, was surging in the polls before Glenn Beck asked her on his radio show if she was a 9/11 "truther." She didn’t disavow the possibility that the government had something to do with the attacks, and was quickly denounced by Beck. (“The fastest way back to 4 percent. Holy cow,” Beck said after hanging up with her.)
“I think she was unfairly punished by it for those that read more into it,” Paul said. “He sort of set her up for that. At the same time, the followups, the people who wrote about it and just assumed she committed the greatest crime in the world: I think the reaction was every bit as a big of a problem as the question. Why would a question like that be asked in a governor’s race in Texas?”
Paul’s support may have helped her surge in the polls at first, but Paul, who is also derided as a 9/11 truther, was perhaps not the best mentor when it came to the issue that ultimately tripped her up. Medina has distanced herself from Paul, not directly referring to him as a “mentor” and quickly pointing out her other influences.
"Like Ron Paul, I draw my political ideology from many of the same historic figures and align myself heavily with the U.S. Constitution,” she said in a statement. “I'm a strong supporter of freedom and liberty. Dr. Paul has been my congressman for many years and his political direction has had an influence on me, as it has many others.”
Medina was underfunded in her bid for the governorship, a problem that likely faces two other Paul-ites running in 2010.
Valerie Meyers, who's running for a Georgia House seat against Democratic incumbent Jim Marshall, describes herself as a Ron Paul Republican, and was a coordinator for her congressional district during Paul’s 2008 presidential bid. Meyers has signed a Club for Growth pledge to repeal any “federal health-care takeover” if passed, and would like to abolish the Department of Education and audit the Federal Reserve, among other Paulian goals. She is also pro-gun rights and strongly against abortion, though she says she differs with Paul on his pro-earmarks stance. “I consider Congressman Paul to be one of the most important figures of the 21st century, both politically and economically,” Meyers told The Daily Beast in an email. She added that she’s only met Paul in person twice, and that he seemed supportive of her candidacy, but “also realistic about the challenges a self-identified ‘Ron Paul Republican’ will face, particularly in a state where he only received 3 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential primary.” She has not yet filed her campaign-finance report.
Former Paul volunteer Linda Goldthorpe, who writes on her campaign Web site that she thinks Paul is "the only truly constitutional member of Congress," is running for a House seat in Michigan, and Paul has officially endorsed her. (Goldthorpe did not respond to requests for comment.) Goldthorpe is an attorney and ran for the seat in 2008, as well, but lost. “I look at the country with fear,” she said then. “Look at the national deficit. … We are bombing other countries and our own borders are open. Our rights are being decimated.” Now that the Tea Party has moved closer towards the mainstream, that sentiment seems likely to find a more receptive audience today than it would have two years ago.
Liz Goodwin is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast. She has written for the New York Sun, GothamSchools, the Tico Times, and Fodor's Travel Guides.