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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 June 2007, 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK
Giving the US minnows their moment
By Justin Webb
BBC News in Manchester, New Hampshire

The news organisation CNN, sponsor of the latest round of presidential debates, has been criticised by some supporters of the minor candidates for failing to give their views proper weight.

Ron Paul
Ron Paul: One of the more 'authentic' candidates?

Of course the debates have to be realistic, but one should perhaps have some sympathy for those trying to get their voices heard.

So let's hear it for the little guys, guys like the Republican candidate Ron Paul who told his grim-faced fellow debaters here in New Hampshire that the war in Iraq was a mistake and the troops should come home now.

And guys like the Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who dismissing his low showing in the polls said: "I don't buy into their logic. I sail by my ideals, those are my stars."

There are two types of presidential candidate: "authentic" and "inauthentic".

I think Hillary Clinton is inauthentic. So is Mitt Romney.

By this I do not mean that they are insincere or untrustworthy, but that they have trouble communicating a sense of "what you see is what you get." They look schooled.

Get real

This is not a bar to winning, in fact far from it, but it does lead to occasional doubts in their respective parties about their gut attraction as candidates.

Two Congressmen have impressed me at the debates so far for their authenticity.

I think Mr Kucinich is completely authentic.

I sail by my ideals, those are my stars
Dennis Kucinich
Democrat candidate

In the spin room after the debates he talks easily and frankly about his views. He is not the slightest bit defensive about his vision of turning America into a nation of peaceniks or planning for the US medical system to be modelled on Britain's or Canada's.

But it is Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas, who has really caught my attention. He is similarly authentic.

No wobbles

Mr Paul got mugged by Rudy Giuliani in a recent debate: he pointed out that America's global footprint (which he would like to reduce) was responsible for the conditions that led to the terror attacks of 2001.

Republican contenders John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney
Key contenders McCain, Giuliani and Romney hog the limelight

He was not excusing the attacks, he was trying to explain them. But Mr Giuliani spotted an opportunity and slapped the congressman down.

But while Mr Giuliani brings his abortion opinions in for a landing - they appear to have been solidified now after some initial fluidity - at least Mr Paul has never wavered on his core beliefs.

Mr Giuliani has said that while he is personally opposed to abortion, he believes women should be able to decide for themselves whether to terminate a pregnancy.

Mr Paul's beliefs are out of favour with the modern Republican party but they represent a very important strand of American political thought: Mr Paul is a rational believer in freedom.

He is not, we may surmise, a social conservative, who wants the government to take an interest in what is going on in America's bedrooms.

In fact he does not want the government to take an interest in anything much: he wants it gone from people's lives.

He does not want American power to be projected around the world because he does not want American power to be vested in Washington. He prefers the notion that local control, local democracy, local power, is the genius of the American way.

Mess with it and you get 9/11.

Mr Paul speaks, at least in part, for many Republicans who feel their party has been hi-jacked in recent years by two groups who do not really speak for them: the religious conservatives and the neo-conservatives.

Follicle race

As I say, Mr Paul will not win and nor will Mr Kucinich but to describe them as mavericks is to miss the point of these men: they are keepers of the consciences of their respective parties.

In the never-ending battle of ideas that shapes all human affairs, these two politicians are at least taking part.

One of the minor candidates - not one of these two - remarked to me months ago that in the end the choice would be between people "with better hair."

True enough.

But the big beasts with the expensive coiffures kid themselves if they, or we in the media, believe that only they are relevant.

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