Thousands cheer on Ron Paul in Minneapolisby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
While the official Republican National Convention continued last night in St. Paul, supporters of former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul gathered across the river in downtown Minneapolis for their own convention.
Paul promotes a small-government Libertarian message, and some election watchers wonder whether Paul will draw disaffected Republican voters away from John McCain.
St. Paul, Minn. — Texas Congressman Ron Paul is no longer running for president. But you wouldn't know it from the way the jubilant crowd greeted him at the Target Center.
Paul espouses free market values like low taxes and limited government power. He's served in the House of Representatives for more than three decades and has a devoted fan base connected by the Internet. The rally was the official kickoff for Paul's Campaign for Liberty. As Paul stepped on stage at the nearly full arena, the crowd jumped to its feet.
"All I can say is a year, year and a half ago, I had no idea what it would lead to," he said. "It's led to a lot more than I ever dreamed of, but I firmly believe now that our day is coming."
The audience ate up Paul's speech, which lasted more than an hour and criticized both parties for ignoring the Constitution, increasing the national debt, and taxing and spending. More than 10,000 people bought tickets to the rally, which started around noon and lasted more than nine hours. The biggest applause of the night came after Paul's proposal to eliminate the Federal Reserve.
"There is no authority in the Constitution authorizing a central bank, which means there should be no Federal Reserve system. No!" he said.
"Liberty, liberty, liberty!" chanted the crowd.
Ron Paul organizers say the rally was intended to highlight his message and to call attention to what they say is second-class treatment by the RNC. Paul says RNC officials limited his floor privileges. Still, Paul estimates there are hundreds of GOP delegates supporting him.
Kris Broberg is one of them. He's a delegate to the RNC from Minnesota's 5th Congressional district. He says Ron Paul is the perfect solution for Republicans who don't like what they're hearing from McCain or the Republican party.
"I sat at the Republican Convention yesterday and to hear Republican governors say, 'This is what we do, we stay in town and take care of people,' you know, that's not what government should do," Broberg said. "People should take care of themselves and government should make it possible that they can do that, not take care of them. And here, I came here today and it's just like I can just sit back and relax and feel good. There are people talking liberty and it feels so good."
Broberg's planning on attending the rest of the RNC but says he's not planning on voting for McCain. When asked if other Ron Paul supporters will sit out the election and deprive McCain of votes, Broberg says that's beside the point.
"It's not Ron Paul that's hurting McCain, it's John McCain because John McCain is the person with the bad ideas, the corrupt past in government. He's a liberal. He's running a liberal against a liberal, in my opinion. He's a little bit better than Obama but not enough," he said.
Despite the big showing at the rally and tough talk from Ron Paul supporters, conservative Twin Cities blogger and radio talk show host Mitch Berg says voters like Broberg don't pose much of a threat to McCain.
Berg doubts many people who support Paul's positions are likely to vote anyway. He says he has noticed a surge of activism around Ron Paul in Minnesota. He says the Republican party seems to responding to it in a way that could actually invigorate the GOP.
"Sara Palin is an Alaskan and Alaskan Republican politics are fundamentally Libertarian. It's probably the most Libertarian Republican party in the United States," Berg said. "It's a state where you don't have to have a permit to carry a concealed firearm, it's a state where self-reliance, rugged individualists, the whole Reagonian ideal made flesh."
The question, Berg says, is whether Ron Paul supporters will be able to continue the movement they've started.
For his part, 72-year old Ron Paul won't say whether he's considering another run for president four years from now.
- Morning Edition, 09/03/2008, 7:54 a.m.