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Ron Paul: The candidate who wasn’t there

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Paul (David Goldman/AP)

After Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum spoke Wednesday night at the Personhood USA ProLife Forum in Greenville, S.C., the forum's three panelists stood, placed their notes and microphones where they wouldn't drop them, and turned their armchairs completely around.

It was time for Ron Paul.

The Paul-friendly crowd began cheering, hollering and chanting--but not for Paul in the flesh. The Texas congressman appeared on the Hilton hotel's wall on a video screen via satellite from Washington D.C.

"I'm delighted to be with you," Paul said as a shot of the Capitol bathed in light gleamed over his shoulder.

"I'm not there with you," he added.

Paul had an excuse for his absence: he was busy with his day job in Washington, voting against raising the debt ceiling. But Paul also took off all of Thursday from campaigning in South Carolina.

The debt-ceiling vote wasn't until 4:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, lasted a few minutes, and Paul didn't have to appear at the anti-abortion forum until three and a half hours later. For other candidates, a last-minute plane ride would have been a no-brainer.

Yet Paul, who is 76, is an unusual presidential candidate on the stump. He routinely takes days-long breaks from the trail. At campaign events, he only briefly interacts with voters, keeps an arm's distance from most of the press, and his consistent message means he doesn't spend time playing to a crowd or trying to shape his comments to win people over.

"He has found a way to appeal to a certain segment of the electorate ... who have adopted his particular world view," Tony Fratto, a Republican consultant, told Yahoo News. "And it is so distinct from other candidates of either party that those voters aren't really going to go anywhere else, so he doesn't really have to campaign very hard to keep them in his camp."

Paul took a break from campaigning after Christmas and for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day before to the crucial Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. After placing third, he took three days off to spend time with family while the other Republican candidates, with the exception of Rick Perry, rushed to New Hampshire.

After winning second place in New Hampshire's primary on Jan. 10, Paul held a rally Jan. 11 in South Carolina. But then he returned to Texas for four days where he enjoyed time at his family retreat in Lake Jackson, according to the Associated Press and other news outlets.

When asked to explain the breaks Wednesday, Gary Howard, a spokesman for Paul, was incredulous.

"I'm not quite sure what you mean when you ask about 'so much time off,'" Howard wrote in an email to Yahoo News. (For the record, Yahoo News asked about "all the time off.") "Congressman Paul has campaigned as hard and probably harder than anybody in this race."

Howard noted Paul has a full time job, detailed the many states Paul campaigned in during 2011, and his fundraising prowess.

When pressed, Howard said Paul's most recent trip to Texas was to raise money, but he did not respond to a request for details regarding the number and timing of fundraisers during the trip from Jan. 12 to Jan. 15.

Reporters routinely ask if Paul is feeling his age on the trail. He dismisses the suggestion with a testament to his health. "Let's do a bicycle ride," Paul is apt to say. But the questions continue, especially as he maintains a light schedule full of breaks.

When Paul does campaign in person, there's little or no glad handing.

He is often shrouded by security and staff as he enters and exits events, mainly warding off press but also fans. Paul was on such a strict schedule in Iowa and New Hampshire that at times he was rushed into an event to give a 10- or 15-minute speech and immediately rushed out.

In the past few weeks, Paul has been followed by fans donning tea party outfits, toting handmade drawings and paintings of Paul, even one who shaved Paul's name into his head.

Some of Paul's events have included more than a few minutes for pictures and autographs, but long stretches of one-on-one interactions and conversations with voters have been rare.

Paul's camp would partially blame the press for those brief interactions--at a meet and greet on Jan. 9 at Moe Joe's restaurant in Manchester, N.H., a huge crush of journalists forced him to cut the 45 minutes scheduled for handshakes to 15 minutes.

Paul has been getting the support of about 15 percent of respondents in recent South Carolina polls.

But regardless of how many votes Paul gets on Saturday, don't expect to see him in the next primary state of Florida.

Paul's campaign said weeks ago that they will be skipping the delegate-rich but expensive state of Florida in favor of smaller states such as Nevada, Maine and Louisiana .

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