The latest netroots phenomenon is—surprise!—none other than Ron Paul, the little known Republican congressman from Texas’ 14th District. A former U.S. Air Force flight surgeon and career obstetrician, Paul charged into the political arena to fight what he sees as the federal government’s overly dominant role in health care and many other functions better left to the private sector or state and local authorities.

Over the past several weeks, Technorati, which tracks over 86.8 million blogs and over 250 million pieces identified by networking sites as “social media,” has listed “Ron Paul” as the second most popular search term. Not bad for a candidate tracking approximately 1 percent in polls of GOP voters.

In a profile of Paul earlier this month, Jose Antonio Vargas of the Washington Post noted Paul’s so-far unmatched online appeal among the 2008 Republican contenders:

Rep. Ron Paul is more popular on Facebook than Sen. John McCain. He’s got more friends on MySpace than former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. His MeetUp groups, with 11,924 members in 279 cities, are the biggest in the Republican field. And his official YouTube videos, including clips of his three debate appearances, have been viewed nearly 1.1 million times.

In short, Paul’s exposure leads the GOP field in the nontraditional media.

Paul, seventy-one years young, told the Post that he was completely unaware of the new media’s impact on his campaign: “To tell you the truth, I hadn’t heard about this YouTube and all the other Internet sites until supporters started gathering in them.”

Paul received almost zero attention until his May face-off with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani during the first GOP presidential debate, when he argued that U.S. foreign policy—what the CIA labels “blowback”—contributed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Since then, Paul has garnered some attention on CNN and FOX News and has reached out through nontraditional channels such as HBO and Comedy Central.

Some believe his candidacy is having an impact. A poster on the libertarian Liberty Papers blog notes Paul’s transformative power within the GOP: “Republicans who state that they’ve sent him money because he’s telling the truth and waking up the GOP.”

But’s let’s be real. As The Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum writes “We’re talking about a candidate …who wants to abolish the Federal Reserve.”

While Paul’s odds are microscopic, he has a distinctive voice among the GOP field, tracing its roots to the party’s old-school isolationist and libertarian wings. He wants, for instance, to withdraw American military from the Middle East and repeal the Patriot Act.

Yes, a few of his positions are extreme: like abolishing the IRS and ending direct taxation. But he represents a refreshing counterweight to the current brands of Republicanism now on offer.

Alexander Heffner is an intern at CJR.