LAKE JACKSON, Texas – Congressman Ron Paul is no stranger to presidential campaigns. But his signature is all over this one.
"The driving force has always been personal liberty," Paul said Tuesday as he signed copies of his books for supporters at his campaign office in Brazoria County. "These views are now becoming mainstream."
The obstetrician is running for president for the third time. But Paul surprised many political observers earlier this month when he finished a close second in the Republican straw poll in Ames, Iowa.
A recent Gallup poll puts him just two percentage points behind President Barack Obama. His campaign says he also raised $1.8 million this past weekend -- his 76th birthday.
"I didn't think we'd be this far along in converting the country to the views I've expressed," Paul said.
Those controversial views may be why the media has mostly ignored him. That point has been amplified by comedian Jon Stewart.
"How did Libertarian Ron Paul become the 13th floor in a hotel?!" Stewart cracked on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show last week.
Paul said the segment has helped his fundraising considerably.
"I thought it was rather astounding,” he said. “As far as quality of reporting goes, he was fantastic!"
When asked why the media seemed to ignore his campaign, Paul shrugged.
"It doesn't bother me that much because I understand it,” he said. “I think it happens because they don't understand me."
After all, Paul doesn’t fit the Republican mold. He wants to pull American troops out of all military conflicts. If elected, he says he'd abolish the Federal Reserve and even wipe out the federal income tax.
"You can't get rid of the income tax unless you'd get rid of all the spending,” Paul said. “People think it's bizarre, but did we have one before 1913?"
Paul strongly opposed raising the nation's debt ceiling. That does put him more in line with his newest presidential rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
But despite their long political careers – 23 years in Congress for Paul and 11 years as governor for Perry – Paul says they haven’t ever spoken.
“I have not met him -- to my memory,” Paul said. “It's always possible we could've shaken hands, but I do not recall having ever met him or had a conversation with him."
He noted that even though he had significant disagreements with President George W. Bush – a former Texas governor – the two spoke occasionally and were “cordial.”
Yet Paul and Perry both embraced the Tea Party early on. Each candidate hopes to ride that anti-Washington anger straight to the White House.
"Time will tell," Paul said.
Earlier this year, Paul announced he wouldn’t seek another term in Congress to focus on his presidential bid.
So what will he do if he doesn’t win?
"I used to run a lot of track,” he said. “The only thing I didn't think about is the end of the race and whether I come in first, second or third. I run real hard to win. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I don't. But at the end of the race, I'll make a decision."