Underdog Paul Inspires Political Passion
AP | September 6, 2007
Passengers on a plane leaving New York could see three words in 4-foot block letters painted on an East Village rooftop terrace as they ascended: GOOGLE RON PAUL. The entreaty to search the Internet for news of the Republican congressman from rural Texas is one of the more visible signs of enthusiasm from a do-it-yourself base of Web fans. Their support doesn't show up in public opinion polls, but it's unmatched among presidential candidates in its passion.
On their own, the fans have developed a Ron Paul Revolution logo, marketing the idea through YouTube. Message boards and Web sites debate his virtues.
The Web fans for Paul's anti-establishment campaign run away with online polls and blanket Web sites with caps-locked, exclamation-point endorsements of the contrarian Republican, even though he measures no more than 2 percent in most national opinion polls.
The supporters have an entrepreneurial drive and get their political news from Internet sources outside the mainstream media, especially blogs and news aggregators that rely on popular vote to determine news value.
That same spirit inspires them to canvass parade routes in 100-degree heat, argue campaign strategy in two-hour meetings or paint the roof of a Manhattan apartment building.
"To get your arms around everything and understand what is going on is really impossible to do," Paul spokesman Jesse Benton said of supporters roaming the Web.
Paul's message is gospel among his base, which Benton described as mostly old-school conservatives.
Supporters can recite his talking points at length.
"They forge their own intellectual world to find the obscure, unusual sources of information that lead them to obscure, unusual candidates like Ron Paul," said Brian Doherty, a columnist for the libertarian magazine Reason.
Avery Knapp is typical of the Paul Web supporter. A 28-year-old radiology resident, Knapp describes himself as a lifelong conservative who voted for President Bush in 2000 before growing disillusioned with the Iraq war and federal spending.
Bush "did nothing but increase the size of government. The Republican Party needs to move back to its core principles," Knapp said. Many Paul supporters share Knapp's disdain for what he called a "neo-conservative clique" and hope Paul can spark a Goldwater-style insurgency.
At 46, Kevin Leslie has never bothered with politics. After watching an interview with Paul during his 1988 campaign as candidate for the Libertarian Party, Leslie told himself, "If this guy ever runs for president again, I'll back him."
Paul did, and Leslie was good to his word, starting a prominent Paul blog in February and traveling to the recent straw poll in Ames, Iowa.
Paul has attracted a contingent of previously apolitical and even left-leaning Americans like Leslie who support his call to pull all troops out of Iraq immediately and who like his reputation for opposing any legislation not linked to principles already expressed in the Constitution.
"I've already been surprised by how much traction his campaign has gotten," Doherty said. "He's a clever politician because these netroots types can call him a 'true conservative,' a 'constitutionalist' or whatever they call themselves, and he's sensitive to that."
Whatever their political background, the supporters all consider themselves part of a spray-paint and duct-tape "Ron Paul Revolution." Four banners with that unofficial logo hang from the fire escapes of the Manhattan building.
"They couldn't reel us in if they wanted to. Most everything has become an unofficial-official part of the campaign," said Dave Gallagher, whose cadre of Paul supporters came up with the Ron Paul Revolution logo.
Gallagher claims to have started the first group for Paul supporters on Meetup.com, a Web site geared toward the kind of networking that helped presidential candidate Howard Dean's supporters organize in 2004.
In the six months since, more than 30,000 people have joined Meetup groups in more than 700 places across the country. Paul's Meetup presence surpassed Dean's in just two months, said Andres Glusman, vice president of Meetup.com.
"Because people have the power to self-organize here, it's obvious that he's hitting a chord that is resonating with people in a way the media is not acknowledging," Glusman said.
This weekend, Paul will be the major Republican candidate to attend a Texas GOP straw poll in Fort Worth. Straw polls typically are won by the candidate who does the best job turning out dedicated supporters. All the top tier candidates in the race — and a few lower-rung candidates as well — are bypassing the event.
When Paul supporters get together, they often find themselves thrown into the intricacies of running an insurgent campaign, attorney Steven Heath said after a Meetup session in Dallas.
"These guys in Meetup, hardly any of them have any political experience," Heath said. "These people are newbies. They're about to get plugged in, and they'll be plugged in with Paul's ideas."
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