WASHINGTON >> Armed with an inherited fortune and a devotion to Ron Paul, John Ramsey, a 21-year-old college student from Nacogdoches, Texas, plunged into a little-watched Republican House primary in Northern Kentucky this spring to promote his version of freedom.
More than $560,000 later, Ramsey’s chosen standard-bearer, Thomas H. Massie, a Republican, cruised to victory Tuesday night in the race to select a successor to Rep. Geoff Davis, a Republican who is retiring.
The saturation advertising campaign waged by Ramsey’s super PAC, Liberty for All, may be the most visible manifestation of a phenomenon catching the attention of Republicans from Maine to Nevada.
With their favorite having lost the nomination for president, Paul’s dedicated band of youthful supporters are setting their sights down ballot and swarming lightly guarded Republican redoubts like state party conventions in an attempt to infiltrate the top echelons of the party.
“Karl Rove’s fear-and-smear-style Republicans are going to wake up at the end of the year and realize we are now in control of the Republican Party,” said Preston Bates, a Democrat-turned-Paulite who is running Liberty for All for Ramsey.
In Minnesota, Paulites stormed the Republican gathering in St. Cloud last weekend, bumping aside two conventional Republican candidates to choose one of their own, Kurt P. Bills, a high school economics teacher, to challenge Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, this fall.
Backers of Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, crashed Republican conventions in Iowa, Maine, Minnesota and Nevada in recent weeks, snatching up the lion’s share of delegate slots for the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August, a potential headache for the national party and its presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney.
And Paulite candidates for Congress are sprouting up from Florida to Virginia to Colorado, challenging sitting Republicans and preaching the gospel of radically smaller government, an end to the Federal Reserve, restraints on Bush-era anti-terrorism laws and a pullback from foreign military adventures.
“I’d call it a strict constitutional approach,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Ron Paul’s son. “And I think it’s spreading.”
Republican Party officials say they are in daily contact with Ron Paul, in a delicate effort to harness the energy around him without inciting his supporters.
“We have had open dialogue with Dr. Paul and his campaign to ensure we are all focused on winning in November,” said Sean Spicer, the Republican National Committee’s communications director.
Ramsey said other Paul supporters had brought the Kentucky race to his attention and that he would spend whatever it takes “to get this country moving in a freer direction.”
“How much money would you spend for freedom?” he asked Tuesday, after buying airtime from Lexington to Louisville with money he inherited from his grandfather in 2010 as he was being pulled into the libertarian orbit of Paul.
He met Bates on the Paul campaign, and in March, they incorporated Liberty for All with nearly $1 million of Ramsey’s money. More than half of it went into Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District in a whoosh of advertising. The impact has been significant.
Massie, an engineer trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Lewis County judge executive, said he opened the seven-way Republican primary with a lead. But he lost it after Davis and former Sen. Jim Bunning backed one of his rivals, Alecia Webb-Edgington. Then small advertising buys from two other candidates pummeled him with negative accusations.
The sprawling 4th District of Kentucky presents competitors with a challenge. To reach all its voters, a candidate must advertise in four media markets in Kentucky and Ohio. Massie acknowledged that he could not do that, but that Liberty for All could. Soon, the advertising for his rivals was drowned out by attacks on his behalf.
“They owned the airwaves, everything from the Food Channel to Court TV,” he said of the PAC.
The Ramsey money does not have a clear path from Kentucky, but Liberty for All appears to have a taste for the obscure. Its next candidate is Michael D. Cargill, an openly gay, black gun store owner running for constable in Travis County, Texas.
But the political action committee will have money to spend. Ramsey said that between his wallet and a fundraising push, the PAC expected to have $10 million this summer.
As they were nominating Bills at the Minnesota Republican Convention, the Paul forces also seized 12 of the state’s 13 Republican National Convention delegate slots. In Maine, they took 21 of the 24 slots. In Nevada, they grabbed 22 of the 28.
The strategy of crashing state conventions has secured Paul large slates of delegates in Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana and Missouri, as well.
Such delegates are not considered a threat to the Romney nomination. But they could be vocal advocates for Paul’s libertarian views on issues like the war in Afghanistan, the Patriot Act and terrorist detainee policies, which overlap some with Tea Party views but do not mirror them.
And lightly regarded Paulites running for Congress could become forces with the right amount of money. Tisha Casida, an independent in Colorado, is running against Rep. Scott Tipton. Calen Fretts is chipping away at Rep. Jeff Miller in Florida’s Panhandle, and Karen Kwiatkowski is challenging Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte in Virginia.
“I think there’s a great movement going on in this country,” said Casida, who said she was pulled into politics by Paul’s message and the red tape she faced trying to open a local farmer’s market.