AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- No serious presidential candidate has been bashing runaway government spending and federal overreach longer than Rep. Ron Paul has. The Texas Republican's nickname on Capitol Hill says it all: "Dr. No."
Now, those positions are popular with GOP voters, and Paul is urging Republicans to say "Yes" as he makes his third attempt at the presidency.
First elected to Congress in 1976, Paul ran for president as a Libertarian in 1988. Three years ago, the former flight surgeon and outspoken critic of the Federal Reserve became an Internet sensation -- and a prodigious fundraiser-- when he made a spirited but doomed bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
At age 75, Paul is trying again. He planned to announce a bid for the Republican nomination on Friday while in New Hampshire.
He is known for holding unconventional views while keeping a smile on his face, espousing a sort of modern Republican populism without the fangs. The obstetrician has delivered more than 4,000 babies and is personally against abortion, but he doesn't think the federal government should regulate it. That's a function of state government, he says.
He has also said he wants to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, favors returning the United States to the gold standard in monetary policy and wants the U.S out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Democrats have tried repeatedly to beat him in a congressional district that stretches from the outskirts of Corpus Christi to Galveston. But the independent swath of coastal Texas seems a good fit for the maverick doctor. He has 18 grandchildren, according to his website, and he and his wife of 54 years, Carol, are known widely in Paul's district for the cookbooks they give away to supporters.
"The secret to his success is his authenticity," said Democratic consultant Jeff Crosby, who grew up in Paul's district. "He's an authentic nut."
Crosby, who worked to defeat Paul in 2006 -- unsuccessfully -- described the difficulty he had trying to persuade voters to reject what he thought were the candidate's radical views.
"Just the mere fact that he does what he says he's going to do, regardless of how nutty or ineffective it may, they like it," Crosby said. "A lot of folks along the coast have never expected much from government, and they're getting it."
Paul, a native of Pittsburgh, is both a spiritual father and actual father in the tea party movement. His son, tea party darling Rand Paul, won a Senate seat in Kentucky last year and has become an ardent proponent of spending cuts and smaller government.
As far back as 2007, long before people were evoking the fabled Boston Tea Party to symbolize their disgust with an overtaxing central government, Ron Paul was hosting a "Tea Party Fundraiser" aboard a shrimp boat near Galveston.
Organizer and Paul campaign volunteer Elizabeth Day remembers that supporters wore period dress and rolled fake barrels of tea into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
"When people come to believe in Ron Paul, there is a passion that burns within us," said Day, a 57-year-old oil company revenue analyst. "To me, Ron Paul is the tea party."
The elder Paul has built coalitions that include senior-citizen "granny warriors" and pot-smoking libertarians. During his 1988 presidential run, High Times magazine, which caters to marijuana users, published a cover story under the headline, "Ron Paul: Pro-Pot Presidential Candidate."
Paul has expressed the view that the states, not the federal government, should regulate vices like pornography and drugs.
What sets Paul apart most from his GOP brethren are his views that defense spending needs to shrink and that the U.S. should get out of its two wars. Paul says the conflicts are financially unsustainable -- and another drag on a battered U.S. dollar that he believes is on the verge of collapse.
He also disputes a fundamental underpinning of the war in Iraq, namely that Islamic terrorists must be stopped overseas before they can attack the United States.
"They came over here because we were over there," Paul said in the run-up to the 2008 campaign. "We occupy their territory. It would be like if the Chinese had their navy in the Gulf of Mexico."
Paul has routinely turned down pork-barrel spending for his own district, but he has earned praise at home for refusing to sign up for lucrative pension benefits to which he is entitled as a member of Congress. Paul took a break from the House after his failed 1988 presidential bid but was re-elected in 1996.
Though he has voiced support for term limits, Paul has been in Congress for almost 30 years. Thanks to a law first crafted for Texas-born President Lyndon Johnson, he was able to run for the House and the presidency at the same time in 2008. Supporters figure he'll do the same in 2012.
Former Texas GOP gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina counts herself among the die-hard Ron Paul followers who won't let age, unconventional views or the professed tea party proclivities of other candidates shake her away from the soft-spoken presidential contender.
"All the Republicans say we need to reduce spending," said Medina. "They talk about it, but they don't actually deliver on those promises. He's different."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)