The Ron Paul phenomenon: How a Republican presidential campaign caught fire in San Francisco
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San Franciscans rarely get excited about Republican presidential candidates, and it's rarer still to see GOP campaign signs in Mission District windows, beat-up old cars, or crowds of enthusiastic supporters flooding the city's streets. But that's what Ron Paul has been inspiring.
"I would give my entire net worth to see Ron Paul elected president," a man holding a "Ron Paul '08" sign on the corner of Powell and Geary on Dec. 16 said. "I've never contributed to a candidate's campaign in my life, but in the past months I've given about $600 or $700."
Paul's frank assessment of the United States as an overreaching empire got his campaign rolling, and it has gathered serious momentum in the past couple of months, as evidenced by an increasing online presence and record-breaking fundraising for November and December. Paul's essentially libertarian platform is attracting support from a surprisingly diverse range of people, from lifelong members of the National Rifle Association to medical marijuana activists to disenchanted college students.
Perhaps even more surprising, this Republican from Texas is generating significant support among Bay Area voters. "Ron Paul" signs are now visible at antiwar protests, on lawns, and in apartment windows. People who have never been politically active or have never felt excited by a candidate before are spending their free time tabling at weekend farmers markets and walking precincts after work in support of the candidate.
A recent recruit of the San Francisco Ron Paul meetup.com group, which is attracting new members daily, captured the fervor of Paul supporters with this posting: "I can't believe my new hero is a politician. Never in my life have I encountered any political leader who actually represented me. This country needs Ron Paul desperately."
Despite their demographic diversity, one unifying theme among all Paul supporters is their absolute belief in their candidate's integrity. He is perceived as a man who says what he thinks and takes action according to what he says; he is seen as a rare breed among politicians, especially those who, like Paul, have served several terms in Washington DC. "My gut tells me Ron Paul is different," said John Harvan, one of about 60 radiant Paul supporters gathered amid Union Square holiday shoppers Dec. 16.
Bay Area supporters organized through online meet-up groups were congregated on the chilly Sunday in solidarity with a national Paul fundraising push, or what the campaign dubbed "a moneybomb." Staged to coincide with the anniversary of the 1773 Boston Tea Party, the Ron Paul Tea Party was, as one Web site put it, "a symbolic dumping of these tyrannical systems that thwart our true destiny of Freedom & Liberty!"
The Dec. 16 fundraising push was an unquestionable success, raising more than $6 million in a 24-hour period. Paul's campaign had already received national attention when it received $4.2 million in donations Nov. 5, which precipitated his much-needed boost in the polls. But $6 million broke the record for funds raised in one day, a record previously held by the John Kerry campaign for raising $5.7 million in 2004.
Most of the donations to the Paul campaign are small contributions from committed individuals. Proving the grassroots nature of Paul's support, the average size of each donation is consistently around $100.
Yet there is no political mystery to Paul; he has been articuutf8g the same message one of limited constitutional government, low taxes (if any), and free markets since he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1976 from his home state of Texas. And his dependability is starting to gain traction with libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, and independents.
"A real mix of people are brought together by Ron Paul's message because we sense the danger in the country," Gerald Cullen of San Francisco told the Guardian. "I think the [George W.] Bush administration has just about destroyed the country. Nothing in the Constitution provides for a president to attack another country that hasn't attacked us."
Paul is a self-proclaimed noninterventionist and has opposed the war in Iraq from the start. He is by no means liberal or progressive; he's more a classic conservative who opposes government regulation. "A lot of people are frustrated by the different regulations and infringements on our liberty day in and day out," said Ralph Crowder, who lives in Berkeley. "Ron Paul's not trying to sell you on himself; he's just selling you the message of freedom."
And while there are varying definitions of freedom, Paul's fundamental noninterventionist belief translates into a variety of positions that appeal to voters on both ends of the political spectrum. He sees the USA PATRIOT Act as a breech of civil liberties; wants to stop US involvement in the World Trade Organization, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and other free trade agreements; and supports bringing American troops home from Iraq posthaste.
Appealing to the opposite end of the spectrum, he is also staunchly antichoice, introduced legislation in 2004 to repeal bans on assault weapons, and wants to beef up the US's borders.
Adrian Bankhead, who also lives in Berkeley, wants Paul to be the Republican nominee but disagrees with his social policies too heartily to vote for him in the general election. "His social views against immigration, abortion, affirmative action, and women make me nervous," Bankhead told the Guardian. But Bankhead respects what he sees as Paul's fundamental honesty: "He is the only Republican nominee who would not steal the election in November."
However, Bankhead's position is a minority one among Paul supporters. Crowder and Cullen, for instance, agree with almost everything Paul says. "There's not much difference between where he stands and where I stand," Crowder said. And Cullen, who worked for Paul during his 1988 bid for the presidency as a Libertarian candidate, sees the candidate's principles as "very much in line with the old Republican Party principles ... before the madness took over the country."
Stephanie Burns, one of the main organizers of online Bay Area meet-up groups, says she agrees with Paul "all the time."
There are more than 80,000 Ron Paul online meet-up members around the country 452 in the San Francisco group as of the writing of this article and most of them find themselves in complete agreement with Paul's perspectives.
Scott Loughmiller sees the Paul campaign as being in a prime position to steal the nomination, with his polling numbers rising, his momentum building, and plenty of money in the coffers. "We're right where Kerry was in 2004 going into the primaries, when [Howard] Dean had already been crowned winner by the media," Loughmiller said.