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Peter Schiff turns on his computer and checks his fundraising numbers with the studied nonchalance other guys might display while perusing last night’s box scores.
It’s a Friday in early August and Schiff’s fans have set off a "money bomb" — a 24-hour pledge blitz they hope will persuade him to run for the U.S. Senate seat held for almost 30 years by Christopher J. Dodd.
Schiff, the Fairfield County stockbroker and author who has become YouTube’s most popular prognosticator of financial doom, says he will make up his mind by Labor Day. But spurred on by a cadre of young and zealous followers from around the nation, and a fundraising total that is closing in on $1 million, he is leaning toward a run.
Unlike most politicians, including his hero, Ronald Reagan, he does not traffic in unbridled optimism: It’s twilight in Peter Schiff’s America, and, if painful and drastic changes aren’t made soon, he foresees an economic depression lasting at least a decade. The future, as envisioned by Schiff, will be marked by rampant inflation — a gallon of gas could cost $10 — food shortages and rolling blackouts, unless government sharply shrinks and the free market is allowed to flourish.
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The current crisis is "payback for a decade of reckless monetary policy," Schiff says. "The recession is not the problem, the recession is the cure. It’s not fun, just like heroin withdrawal is not fun … but it’s necessary."
Schiff, who has never run for public office before — in fact, hasn’t even voted in years — says he’d run as a Republican, albeit one squarely within the GOP’s libertarian wing, which is led by renegade Texas congressman Ron Paul.
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"I’m not running as an academic exercise," Schiff says. "I’m running to win … and if I can’t run as a Republican, I can’t win."
There are already three other Republicans gunning for Dodd, and a fourth, World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda E. McMahon, announced she’s considering a run as well. Moreover, it’s not clear how Schiff’s slick style, quirky family history (his 81-year-old father is in prison for refusing to pay income tax), and unorthodox views on the U.S. economy would mesh with Connecticut’s Republican establishment.
"It’s an open party and it’s a free country," says GOP State Chairman Chris Healy, who is maintaining a neutral stance. He doesn’t know much about Schiff, except for what he’s seen on TV, but adds, "He’s raised a lot of money so far and I think that’s impressive, so we’ll see what happens."
Schiff’s eat-your-spinach ethos may resonate with the Tea Party crowd and others who are suspicious of President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress. And Libertarians here and around the nation have already rallied to Schiff, who was Ron Paul’s economic adviser during Paul’s unsuccessful presidential bid. "I like that he talks straight," says Rich Lion, head of the party in Connecticut. "He’s not a professional politician."