WASHINGTON — The cult of Ron Paul seems to be picking up lots of new members — and some serious money.
The 72-year-old Republican presidential candidate — a conservative-libertarian congressman from Texas whose anti-war fundamentalism has attracted a broad youth following and Internet buzz — has been widely considered a long shot all year, with his campaign running on a shoestring budget and not much more than gumption.
Or so it appeared until Wednesday, when Paul's team announced that it had raised about $5.1 million from July through September. That puts his total at more than $8 million for this year.
That may seem like spare change compared to Democrat Hillary Clinton's $27 million third-quarter take, but it puts Paul in range of several other contenders:
_ Democrat Bill Richardson and Republican John McCain estimated that they each had raised about as much as Paul did for the quarter.
_ Democrat John Edwards reported raising about $7 million.
_ Republican Fred Thompson is expected to report that he raised about $8 million — and he's running second to Rudy Giuliani in national polls.
_ Democrats Joseph Biden and Christopher Dodd combined were expected to have less cash to show for the reporting period than Paul has raised.
The announcement on the campaign's Web site said that Paul's growing appeal stands "in stark contrast" to the fundraising trends for Republicans Mitt Romney, Giuliani and McCain. That is, Paul's total take rose sharply in the third quarter, while their donations declined.