Ron Paul framed it as "a fight that could literally change our country" and laid out a plan: Return to the gold standard, end U.S. military interventions overseas, demolish the Federal Reserve and stop bailouts.
"Overwhelmingly, people said they wanted a man of principle in Washington," his campaign manifesto read. "They said they want someone who was really against budget deficits, big spending and high taxes, not someone who says one thing and does another."
The fundraising letter could have arrived yesterday.
But it was written in 1984.
As he seeks the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the Texas congressman is spreading the same message — and people are finally listening.
His persistent bleating about federal spending and the national debt, for years ignored by both Democrats and Republicans, has proven prophetic. Paul's Republican rivals today sound like he did in 2008, when he was viewed as the kooky older guy on the campaign trail warning about an impending crash.
"People kid me now about going mainstream," Paul said in an interview. "Maybe the mainstream came in my direction."
Anti-Washington from the day he stepped foot on Capitol Hill in 1976, Paul was the tea party before the tea party.
People are drawn to Paul — or at least respect him — because he has been consistent in an era of finger-in-the-wind politics.
"Many political campaigns devolve into personality cults — 'Vote for me. I'm the kind of guy you want to have a beer with,' " said former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, a liberal Democrat who teamed up with Paul last year to pass a measure requiring an audit of the Fed. "That is completely foreign to him. He'll only talk about issues.
"He's actually a bit shy and isn't particularly fond of being in front of large crowds or cameras. But that preoccupation with the issues and internal revulsion toward personality politics is exactly what makes him so popular."
Paul, who turns 76 next week, is hoping a top-three finish in Saturday's straw poll in Ames, Iowa, will thrust him into the upper level of contenders.
For the past two years, Paul has won the straw poll at the American Conservative Union's annual gathering in Washington, his raucous supporters looked on with some disdain by establishment Republicans in the crowd.
He concedes that he is best positioned to affect the debate rather than win, but he holds an underdog's hope.
"How come I think I have a chance? My name's on the ballot," he said. "And the country's shifting my way."
Paul is an anti-war, anti-abortion Republican who was the Libertarian nominee for president in 1988. He burst from obscurity in the last election with a boisterous following and prolific fundraising.
On a single day in December 2007 — the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party — he raised $6 million as part of a "money bomb." His visions of small government, personal responsibility and strict adherence to the U.S. Constitution have become tenets of the tea party movement.
Paul remains a loner in his party, and even now some of his views remain on the fringe. During a GOP debate in South Carolina in May, Paul said that if a person wants to shoot up with heroin, it's that person's choice, and the federal government should stay out of it.
The audience boomed with applause.
So rigid are his views that his routinely is the lone dissenting vote in Congress. He opposes most programs not authorized in the Constitution or those he considers a waste of time or money.
Paul votes against resolutions honoring Boy Scout troops and civil rights leaders. He voted against a congressional medal for former President Ronald Reagan because of its $30,000 cost. He has voted against constitutional bans on same-sex marriage and flag burning, believing in individual expression. And he opposes farm subsidies that benefit constituents in his rural Texas district because he wants the free enterprise system to work.
A retired obstetrician who delivered 4,000 babies and fathered five (including son Rand, who in 2010 became a U.S. senator from Kentucky), Paul says no so often that he has a nickname in Washington: Dr. No.
In his 2008 run for president, Paul drew accusations of hypocrisy for requesting hundreds of millions in budget earmarks, or pork, for his district while voting against the final bill. Paul said he does not endorse the system but puts in earmarks because he represents people who want some of their money back.
A follower of Austrian economics, Paul said his political awakening came on Aug. 15, 1971, when President Richard Nixon ended the last tie between gold and U.S. currency. Paul said that opened the floodgates for both parties to spend and print money and run up debt.
Returning to the gold standard has been his burning cause. Most economists dismiss that as unrealistic and say the gold standard helped cause the Great Depression by limiting how much money could be generated.
But over the years, Paul has gained legions of believers.
Paul was one of only six Republicans to vote against giving President George W. Bush the authority to wage war in Iraq and has long bemoaned U.S. intervention overseas.
"We should spread our values, but we can't spread our values through guns and bombs and occupations," he said. "We should do it through following good economic policy and understanding what personal liberty is all about and set a good example. Maybe the rest of the world would want to follow us."
Paul demurs when asked about his longtime warnings about the debt, once ignored but no longer. His son, campaigning with him in Iowa on Wednesday, said it was something to highlight.
"We should do some gloating," Rand Paul told reporters. "The slogan for the campaign should be, 'Ron Paul was right!' "