Un­likely al­lies unite for Paul’s quixotic bid

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Stephen Di­nan

PHILADEL­PHIA — They are crusty Iowa farm­ers en­ticed by do­ing away with the in­come tax, lib­er­tar­ian-minded col­lege stu­dents in heavy-metal band Tshirts, an­ti­war Repub­li­cans look­ing for a cham­pion, and folks wor­ried about the Fed­eral Re­serve Board and pa­per money.

They say they are the dis­af­fected in pol­i­tics, and this year they are find­ing a po­lit­i­cal home with Ron Paul, the con­gress­man from Texas who is shak­ing up the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial con­test with phe­nom­e­nal fundrais­ing and the po­ten­tial to con­vert that into enough votes to be a spoiler come Jan­uary.

Even with­out the fife-and-drum play­ers, they are the loud­est of crowds. Even with­out the “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and cloak-and­mask movie cos­tumes, they are the most color­ful. And Mr. Paul’s sup­port­ers cer­tainly are the most

sus­pi­cious of the po­lit­i­cal process.

“I don’t want to sound like one of th­ese nut cases, there are prob­a­bly some of them here,” said Tom Levins, wav­ing his arm to­ward 2,000 fel­low sup­port­ers ral­ly­ing with Mr. Paul on Nov. 10 in Philadel­phia. “But you have to won­der about the es­tab­lish­ment. I’ve had it cross my mind, could he be the next po­lit­i­cal per­son knocked off?”

For Mr. Levins and other sup­port­ers, Mr. Paul is more than just a choice on the Repub­li­can pri­mary bal­lot. He is tal­is­manic, a 72-year-old 10-term con­gress­man who tran­scends par­ti­san pol­i­tics. For them, he’s the man who can re­store the Con­sti­tu­tion, end the Iraq war, bring back the gold stan­dard for money and stop an ero­sion of civil rights.

Be­fore his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, Mr. Paul was a doc­tor — first an Air Force flight sur­geon and later an ob­ste­tri­cian — and his fre­quent votes against spend­ing bills and ever-ex­pand­ing fed­eral pro­grams earned him the nick­name “Dr. No.” He also was the Lib­er­tar­ian Party nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent in 1988, run­ning a dis­tant third.

His sup­port­ers cheer his will­ing­ness to stand up to in­sti­tu­tions of power, and his re­cent tus­sle with Fed­eral Re­serve Chair­man Ben S. Ber­nanke at a con­gres­sional hear­ing has be­come a cult hit among the can­di­date’s sup­port­ers on YouTube.

“It’s not about the is­sues, it’s about the Con­sti­tu­tion,” said Michael Hamme, one of the rally-go­ers. “Ba­si­cally, as I see it, we’re run by the Fed­eral Re­serve sys­tem, which is ac­tu­ally not le­gal.”

The words “au­then­tic” and “hon­est” pop up re­peat­edly when his sup­port­ers talk about Mr. Paul, and many say that’s why they’re will­ing to over­look their dis­agree­ments — and for a can­di­date­whoem­brace­sa­nend­tothe drug war, the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice and abor­tion, just about ev­ery­one finds some­thing to dis­agree with.

“He’s kind of no style and all sub­stance. He wouldn’t be in the game if he didn’t re­ally be­lieve in what he’s say­ing,” Ja­cob Lyles, a 24-year-old in­vest­ment banker from Ar­ling­ton, Va. said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. He said Mr. Paul’s au­then­tic­ity cuts through a lot of the po­lit­i­cal clut­ter to grab sup­port­ers. “I think that’s kind of the ex­act op­po­site of what his Repub­li­can op­po­nents are say­ing.”

The rise of Mr. Paul and fel­low Repub­li­can up­start can­di­date Mike Huck­abee sug­gests the un­set­tled na­ture of the Repub­li­can field. While Mr. Huck­abee’s as­cent has been char­ac­ter­ized by poor fundrais­ing and a slow-but-steady buildup of old­fash­ioned word of mouth, Mr. Paul’s cam­paign has ben­e­fited from phe­nom­e­nal fundrais­ing and an In­ter­net-pow­ered ex­plo­sion.

Mr. Paul told the Philadel­phia crowd the In­ter­net has be­come “a very strong po­lit­i­cal equal­izer,” and Michael Corn­field, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist who stud­ies cam­paigns and the In­ter­net, said he is the type of can­di­date to har­ness it.

“There’s a sort of ro­man­tic aura that de­scends around the head of some­one who’s seen as will­ing to speak his mind, no mat­ter what. He’s not in con­trol of the con­sul­tants; he’s not cal­cu­lat­ing,” he said.

At times the In­ter­net-based sup­port­ers ac­tu­ally are lead­ing the cam­paign — which is how the cam­paign wants it.

When some sup­port­ers called for a mass-do­na­tion day on Nov. 5, the Bri­tish Guy Fawkes hol­i­day, tak­ing their lead from the “V for Vendetta” movie, the cam­paign was fine with stand­ing back and watch­ing the money roll in — more than $4 mil­lion in one day.

Sup­port­ers have vowed to try to top that fig­ure with “Tea Party ‘07,” timed for Dec. 16, the an­niver­sary of the Bos­ton Tea Party.

“That’s go­ing to be big,” Mr. Corn­field said. “If you do some­thing once, that gets ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion. If you do some­thing twice, you’ve got a move­ment.”

The Ron Paul move­ment al­ready is gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion, at least on­line, where ar­ti­cles and blog post­ings about its cham­pion draw hun­dreds of re­sponses, many of them an­gry and nearly all of them ac­cus­ing ma­jor press out­lets of ig­nor­ing Mr. Paul.

The vit­riol of some sup­port­ers prompted one pop­u­lar con­ser­va­tive Web site, reds­tate.com, to ban most Paul sup­port­ers from its dis­cus­sions. The mod­er­a­tor of the site said it was get­ting “an­noy­ing, time-con­sum­ing, and band­width-wast­ing re­spond­ing to the same id­i­otic ar­gu­ments from a bunch of lib­er­als pre­tend­ing to be Repub­li­cans.”

Still, sup­port­ers said their move­ment shouldn’t be judged by its loud­est mem­bers.

Rob Kampia, a sup­porter and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based Mar­i­juana Pol­icy Project, said his ex­pe­ri­ence with ac­tivist pol­i­tics sug­gests there are quiet sup­port­ers be­hind the forth­right ones.

“If the Ron Paul sup­port­ers are com­ing off as more kooky than av­er­age, it doesn’t re­ally sur­prise me, be­cause we’ve seen in the mar­i­juana move­ment the peo­ple who are most likely to come out for a con­tro­ver­sial cause are those who have less to lose,” said Mr. Kampia, who has con­trib­uted the max­i­mum $2,300 to Mr. Paul’s cam­paign.

Mr. Paul’s sup­port­ers say that they’re not lib­eral; they’re the true con­ser­va­tives. But many of them are go­ing to be first-time Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers. At the Philadel­phia rally, an in­for­mal sur­vey found par­tyswitch­ers ap­peared to be the norm.

“I tell you what, it hurt,” said Bob Larkin, who changed his Con­necti­cut reg­is­tra­tion to vote in the Repub­li­can pri­mary. “I had to swal­low the bile and do it. As soon as Su­per Tues­day is gone, I’m in­de­pen­dent again.”

Shawn­tae Devlugt, who switched her reg­is­tra­tion in New Jer­sey from Demo­crat to Repub­li­can in or­der to vote for Mr. Paul in the pri­mary, said she was never go­ing back. “Kerry messed that up for the Democrats,” she said, blam­ing the Mas­sachusetts sen­a­tor for his 2004 de­feat. “He can’t prove he didn’t throw the elec­tion to Bush.”

Ms. Devlugt stood out among the Philadel­phia sup­port­ers for more than her green Statue of Lib­erty out­fit, com­plete with Lady Lib­erty tiara. She also was one of the few black sup­port­ers present, a fact that did not go un­no­ticed by one pass­ing car with sev­eral Barack Obama stick­ers on it.

Its two white oc­cu­pants kept telling her Mr. Paul is racist, Ms. Devlugt said. She told them she’d been to plenty of ral­lies and never de­tected any racism from Mr. Paul’s words or from his sup­port­ers.

Not all of Mr. Paul’s sup­port­ers are new­com­ers.

Mr. Levins, who first came across Mr. Paul in the 1970s and has re­ceived his Free­dom Re­port news­let­ter for years, said as a non-Texan, he had been wait­ing for the day he could have a Ron Paul bumper sticker. With a mix­ture of sheep­ish­ness and pride, he and his wife ad­mit­ted to hav­ing the Ron Paul cook­book at home.

“I look at some of th­ese peo­ple, and I say to my­self, ‘Yeah, it’s weird’ or what­ever — I just think fi­nally there may be a trend in this coun­try where peo­ple are fed up with what they’re hear­ing,” he said. “There’s no sheep here, there’s wolves here, ques­tion­ing our na­tion’s gov­ern­ment.”

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