Still-fighting Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul hit Los Angeles today for two fundraisers and an appearence on NBC's Tonight Show starring Jay Leno.

His lunch appearance was before well over 150 folk paying $350 a head at the Burbank Airport Marriott. The attendees got a chance for a personal photo with Paul, plus a half-hour speech with 15 minutes of Q and A from the candidate.

Everyone seems happy to stand near Paul for their photo; a couple of people force hugs on him which he gamely accepts. He is thanked, thanked often, and told "You are so right" by his fans. This crowd is young-skewing; no more than a handful of over-60s, and the usual range from mohawked Hispanic young men to well-composed Asian woman, on the whole a crowd more well-dressed and bourgeois in appearance than the typical Paul roadside sign-waving crowd. 

Paul's talk was standardly non-standard--not canned and in his usual discursive lack-of-order, but nothing shocking or surprising to his fans.

Among the highlights: He stresses the primacy of understanding the unity of rights, property and civil; how pleased he's been at seeing the growth in energy and enthusiasm of the freedom movement since his 2008 run; he hits Romney for his support of the NDAA, and says that he couldn't even consider ever backing another candidate unless their views on foreign policy, monetary policy, and civil liberties had shifted to match his, while holding open the possibility of "building coalitions without selling out viewpoints."

Paul even, perhaps jokingly, floats the idea that perhaps not all the votes are being fairly counted in caucus and primary elections so far. He talks a bit about China, not to mark them as our trade or even possibly military enemy as others on the right tend to do, but to praise them for trading and investing around the globe while we attempt to dominate it. He mocks recent GOP House leadership plans to balance the budget for being too little and too slow. He stresses that his message of shrinking government and increasing liberty shouldn't be seen as a sacrifice, but rather a benefit to all who aren't trying to live off special privileges. He says libertarians need to stress that they don't lack humanitarian bonafides, and that belief in private property and free markets are the greatest guarantee of increased prosperity for most if not all.

He ended assuring us that his campaign is "alive and well and we'll keep pursuing" victory.

In the Q and A Paul was asked about running third party, as an option for his supporters if not himself. He responds that of course you should "do whatever you want to do" but that you should do so understanding the huge odds in terms of barriers both legal and ideological against succeeding that way.

I chatted with a few attendees who didn't mind being on-record, including a local graphic designer, Meg Snow, who was part of a large group of L.A.-based Paul fans all running for positions on the Los Angeles County GOP's Central Committee, which they hope to turn into a Paulite stronghold. Snow says she remains optimistic about the campaign even while not expecting a Paul GOP victory. Why? Because she's seen the extent to which his running has "opened up so many people's eyes and ended their apathy."

I also ran into "radical Republican" and longtime Paul fan Rick Williams, running this year for the federal Senate from California, and the campaign manager for another locally based Paul fan seeking federal office this year, Christopher David, who wants to be the GOP challenger to Henry Waxman.

I talked to an Air Force Captain who wanted to be identified only by first name, Josh, there with his wife (also with the Air Force) and a friend. He said that in the parking lot on their base, they see plenty of Paul bumper stickers, none for his opponents. He's working on a master's thesis concerning issues of Chinese/American trade relations and is concerned with what might happen if the Chinese lose faith in the value of the dollar. 

I run into ex-Congressman Bill Dannemeyer from Orange County, who has gotten more concerned with New World Order-type conspiracy theories since leaving office, he tells me, while maintaining his staunchly old-fashioned Christian conservatism. "God will not be mocked," he tells me twice, while granting that Christian morality is not for the state to impose. He tells me he thinks Paul is one of America's greatest patriots. Paul fanhood bridges many gaps in American ideology and politics, to be sure.

I overhear one woman telling her tablemates she's an auditor; "audit the Fed, please!" someone yells across the table. That's a Paul crowd for you.

Later, I and a New York Times reporter also on the Paul beat tag along behind Paul's black Suburban to the Burbank NBC studio where the Tonight Show tapes. Paul was there with his wife Carol and two granddaughters and a couple of staffers. Leno stops in pre-show for a surprisingly educated pre-chat about politics with Paul. 

Paul did well during his two full segments of the show, though he didn't really fall back on trying to sell himself and his philosophy to undecided voters very vigorously. He was cheerful, and reacted jovially to a visual gag involving dueling photos of him and Santorum shirtless (Paul looked more fit, decidedly) and Paul's head imposed on a clip of a kung fu master kicking ass.

Paul fielded a complicated abortion question nicely (while doubtless giving both sides of the debate something to be unhappy with in his nuanced stance, anti-abortion but not calling for a federal government solution to it), tried to explain exactly what might happen at a brokered convention where his campaign's efforts in trying to ensure that even many delegates committed by the rules to voting for someone else on first ballot are Paul fans at heart could lead to a surprising endgame. He defended the right of all Americans, whether in corporate organizations or not, to support and speak out on politics, saying the real problem with money in politics is how much politics controls Americans' money, not that money controls politics.

Leno's regard for Paul seems real--he keeps getting invited back. Leno's handling of Paul was respectful even where it was funny: the gags were never at Paul's expense, and he was given open opportunities to critique sharply his opponents.

Paul's own sense of humor was intact; backstage he and his team were riffing off the question of what Paul's Secret Service handle might be (although he pointedly refuses to spend taxpayer money by asking for or using such protection) and he offers "Tiger" (complete with little growl), "Ernesto," a latinized version of his middle name ("Why? I don't know!"). I suggested a shoutout to the serious Austrian econ fans: "Ludwig." ("Only you and I will get that.")

Paul and his wife Carol also shared a serious moment backstage, musing quietly over some active duty soldiers they met at the earlier fundraiser, who were being sent off to Afghanistan, one for a return engagment, one afraid to even inform his parents. Paul meets a lot of active duty military and veterans, and his concern for their fates in wars he considers dumb and unconstitutional and immoral weighs on him. He asks me if I tend to read Lawrence Vance, a writer he appreciates, who writes frequently on anti-imperialist and non-interventionist foreign policy themes.

Paul had a private, smaller, higher-ticket fundraiser in L.A. in a private home after the Leno show to which no press were invited. Such personal-appearance fundraisers had not been a huge priority in the past for the campaign, I was told, but were likely to be more of one moving forward.

While press accounts this week poke at the campaign for actually spending the money they have and for not constantly breaking monthly records (Gingrich, meanwhile, is actually in debt, which Paul staunchly avoids), they think they will do OK moving forward, with the next Paul moneybomb planned for March 23. It is likely that their serious money and candidate time will be aimed down the line more at the big-delegate-ticket states of Texas and California, where a district-focused strategy can win him delegates in a state where winning specific congressional districts wins you delegates.

For much, much more on Paul see my forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, and my April Reason magazine cover story, "The Ron Paul Moment."

And here is the video of Paul's Leno appearance tonight, in full. Watch that tie pop!