The Paul phenomenon
Chicoans jump on an unlikely but lively bandwagon
Of all the candidates running for U.S. president, which is the only one with a grassroots support group in Chico?
Barack Obama? Hillary Clinton? Mitt Romney? Nope.
It’s Ron Paul, a heretofore largely unknown 72-year-old Republican congressman from Texas who is turning out to be the Internet sleeper candidate of the 2008 election. In Chico as elsewhere, none of the other Republican candidates has generated the kind of online excitement Paul has.
A week ago Tuesday (July 10), nine local people gathered at the Chico home of Jon Teofilo to talk about supporting Paul’s candidacy. They had connected online, at a popular Web site called MeetUp.com, where they’d seen an announcement of the meeting.
They seemed to have several things in common. They were disappointed with the mainstream Republican candidates, they had a desire to find a leader with fresh ideas, and they had a certain Libertarian bent.
Paul, it should be noted, ran for president once before, in 1988, as a Libertarian. He came in third, behind George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, with half of 1 percent of the vote.
Teofilo opened the meeting by mentioning that he’d seen the Republican candidates debate on television recently, and “I got turned on to Ron Paul because he stood out from Republicans; he was different and a true conservative.”
During the debate, Paul spoke out against an interventionist foreign policy and for returning to a gold standard. He also advocated ditching the Federal Reserve, to which the American people have handed over the power to print their money. He even reiterated his desire to abolish the income tax. All are issues other Republicans and most politicians steer clear of.
Paul has led in every online poll asking viewers who they thought won each Republican debate that’s been televised. When he wasn’t invited to the June 30 Iowa Forum sponsored by the Iowans for Tax Relief and Iowa Christian Alliance, he gave an hour-long speech next door in front of a larger audience than the one at the forum.
Like most of Paul’s video clips, the speech can be seen online. Paul’s campaign, like those of other candidates, relies heavily on Internet sites such as YouTube and MeetUp. More, perhaps, than any other candidate, however, Paul tries to use the Internet to convert virtual support into grassroots efforts. So far it has worked.
As of Tuesday (July 17), 22,801 people had registered with Ron Paul MeetUp groups in 453 cities. Obama, who used the Internet to raise a substantial part of the $34 million his campaign generated last quarter, had just 5,362 people registered in 59 cities. For Republican Mitt Romney, only 29 people had registered to volunteer support.
“It means more to have people on MeetUp because those are the people who go out and campaign,” said Josh Goldwire, a Houston native and Butte College student. He first heard of Paul in 2002, when he heard him speaking on the Alex Jones Radio Show, which broadcasts nationally out of Austin, Texas.
Jesse Benton, communications director for the Ron Paul 2008 campaign, echoed Goldwire’s comments and noted that Paul has the most active MySpace account among Republicans, with 46,449 friends—as of press time Wednesday.
Nevertheless, MeetUp is what really counts: “The numbers at MeetUp are an exact translation to boots on the ground.”
Paul also has the most subscribers on YouTube, Benton said. And the campaign has more money, $2.4 million in the bank, than John McCain, once a GOP favorite but now fading fast because of his support for the troop surge in Iraq.
Paul’s opposition to the war in Iraq, at one point a position unique among congressional Republicans that made him an outsider in his own party, has helped him greatly among disaffected Republicans and Libertarians, but it was just one of the reasons given at Teofilo’s house for his growing popularity.
“Just look at his voting record,” Goldwire said. “He’s known as ‘Dr. No’ because he refuses to vote for any bill that’s unconstitutional or contains wasteful government spending.”
Paul, who was an obstetrician/ gynecologist before going into politics, never voted to raise taxes, never voted for a budget with a deficit, never voted for the Patriot Act, and has never gone on a taxpayer-funded junket, Goldwire said. Each year he returns a portion of his congressional pay to the U.S. Treasury, and he does not accept his government pension.
Indeed, to many supporters his most attractive quality is his consistent adherence to his principles. Disillusioned with the big-government conservatism of the current administration, they like his commitment to limited government, low taxes, free markets and determination not to get involved in overseas dramas.
“He’s the only candidate running who voted against the Iraq War because he doesn’t believe in any interventionist policies,” Goldwire said. “Some people bring up Obama’s name, but they fail to remember that Barack didn’t have the opportunity to vote on Iraq because he wasn’t a senator until 2005, and it’s highly likely he would have voted the way Hillary Clinton did in 2003—for the war, then backtracking once we got stuck in Iraq.”
As for the Chico Ron Paul MeetUp group, its numbers have increased from nine to 17 in a week’s time. After the CN&R went to print it held its second MeetUp at Mountain Mike’s Pizza Wednesday (July 18), where Goldwire said he planned to hand out Ron Paul DVDs for the other members to burn and distribute throughout Chico.