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Still riding the wave of publicity he received after reporting a surprising $5 million dollar haul in the 3rd quarter, Ron Paul is now the beneficiary of a daylong fundraising blitz which the NYT reports netted $4.07 million.

This figure is astonishing for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that Ron Paul had almost nothing to do with this particular drive. The idea of staging a fundraising drive on Guy Fawkes Day (which commemorates the day when its namesake tried to blow up Parliament) actually arose independently from ThisNovember5th.com, and the campaign spread virally.

Thanks to this grassroots triumph, Paul has now raised $7.2 million in just 5 weeks, putting the campaign’s $12 million goal within reach. It also raises the possibility that he could conceivably lead the entire Republican field for the 4th quarter, assuming Romney doesn’t inflate his numbers with another $6 million of his own money (he will). Given the importance the media places on fundraising, how long could the GOP fundraising leader remain in 6th place in the polls?

Paul’s grassroots power may actually spell trouble for the GOP, however. He has not promised to endorse the eventual GOP nominee, and his fundraising power and internet support may encourage him to continue his campaign as a third party candidate, particularly if Giuliani is nominated. Is it worthwhile to note that Paul already made one 3rd party run for the White House as the Libertarian Party nominee in 1988.

This historic haul also suggests that the race for the Republican nomination is still wide-open, with six viable candidates if one counts Paul, as the national media will increasingly do. This dynamism is driven both by discontent within the Republican ranks and unresolved conflict between the merits of ideological purity and electability. While in other election years pro-choice or anti-war views would be a deal breaker for any potential GOP nominee, the sense that a tradition conservative can’t win following the Bush fiasco has created an opening for a Giuliani or Ron Paul.

While I still maintain that Ron Paul is too far outside the mainstream to ultimate have a significant electoral impact, his grassroots support and fundraising power are shaking up the campaign and ensuring that the Republican race will continue to be more exciting and unpredictable than its Democratic counterpart.