By PHILIP ELLIOTT, ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — Republican presidential contender Ron Paul is opening his wallet for $2 million of television ads that criticize rivals Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain for supporting federal spending while touting his own proposal for drastically shrinking Washington's bottom line.
Paul on Thursday unveiled a 60-second ad that cast the White House hopefuls as spend-happy politicians who are not true conservatives. A second ad, also set to run for two weeks in the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, promotes Paul's plan to cut $1 trillion from the budget, eliminate five Cabinet-level agencies and stop spending U.S. tax dollars abroad on wars or aid.
Further seeking to criticize his rivals, Paul's campaign has been mailing voters saying Romney, Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota are beholden to unions.
"The sad truth is, Dr. Paul's opponents have records that leave much to be desired," the campaign said in an anti-labor mailing in South Carolina.
Paul, a physician who previous sought the Libertarian and Republican nominations for the White House, has tapped his fervent supporters' imaginations and wallets as he attempts to claw his way to the top of the GOP contest. His latest fundraising push brought in more than $2.3 million in recent days. His campaign earlier had announced that he had raised $8 million during the last three months and had banked $3.5 million for the fundraising quarter that started Oct. 1.
That leaves Paul in a position to shape the Republican debate, even if the 76-year-old Air Force veteran seems unlikely to win the nomination. Four years ago, he sought the GOP nomination while talking about economic policy, liberty and the Federal Reserve. Since then, the tea party has risen and seized on those issues, and some regard Paul as one of the movement's godfathers.
His international policy positions – he opposes all foreign aid, even to U.S. ally Israel, and is indifferent toward Iran – puts him outside the mainstream of GOP thinking. His antagonism toward the Federal Reserve has made some nervous, and his opposition to a federal ban on same-sex marriages riles social conservatives.
Yet the figure once seen as a fringe candidate and a nuisance to the establishment is energizing the party's libertarian wing, which is looking with disdain at the other candidates' previous support for the Wall Street bailout of 2008 and Democrats' economic stimulus plan of 2009.
Paul is none too pleased with his rivals. He doesn't appear to be staging his criticism as a proxy for a favorite candidate and has shown no willingness to spare any of his rivals for the nomination, including Cain, the former pizza executive who has risen to the top tier of some polls.
"If he's the flavor of the month," said Gary Howard, Paul's spokesman, "he still deserves to be talked about."
In one letter, the campaign said Republicans could not nominate Perry, "the governor of Texas, who gave in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants."
Paul's son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another tea party favorite, signed the message.
"Supporting more of the status quo's defenders -- whether they are Democrats or Republicans -- will surely deepen our debt crisis and permanently cripple our economy," Rand Paul wrote.