Unlikely allies unite for Paul’s quixotic bid
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.”