Ron Paul has no plan to set foot in the Republican convention next door in St. Paul. If he were to try, he said, party officials have told him that he would have to be chaperoned. So the 10-term congressman and presidential candidate held his own party, a nine-hour “Rally for the Republic” that amounted to a one-day counter-convention.
As many as 12,000 disillusioned Republicans and independents, according to organizers, converged on the Target Center, an NBA basketball arena, for a boisterous push-back against the Republican establishment.
In a lively speech, Rep. Paul (R-Texas) thanked his supporters and asked them to keep up the fight.
“They will not welcome us with open arms, I found that out,” he said. “There is a vacuum out there, and it’s not in one political party. It’s pervasive.
“This is much bigger than the Republican Party. . . . In a true revolution, believe me, the revolution does not occur within a single party.”
Paul, 73, railed against the Patriot Act, the Federal Reserve, and U.S. membership in the United Nations. “End the Fed,” the crowd chanted.
“I understand there’s another meeting going on in a nearby town,” he said during his speech, accusing the GOP of bending its rules to exclude him.
GOP convention spokeswoman Joanna Burgos said he received the same invitation as any other member of Congress. “We actually never heard back from him,” she said.
Paul harnessed the Internet to become a money-raising wonder. He raised more than $34 million for his presidential campaign and broke a record for the most money raised by a candidate on the Web in a single day ($6 million). He won more than 5% of Republican primary votes cast this election cycle, and he outperformed John McCain in Nevada and Montana.
But he did not endear himself to mainstream Republicans. An outspoken opponent of America’s military presence abroad, especially in Iraq, he holds many views at odds with McCain’s.
For Tuesday’s rally, Internet-organized “Ronvoys” brought people from across the country.
Nancy Zverev, 56, hates to fly, but she came in from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for the event. She said she had mostly voted Republican but had fallen for Paul’s message and his opposition to the Iraq war after discovering his website in December.
Wearing a large “Ron Paul 2008" bib she sewed and draped over her floral sundress, Zverev was sharing a hotel room with three people she met at rallies against taxes and for Paul.
“I cannot vote for McCain,” she said. “He doesn’t vote for what he says he stands for.”
Paul, the Libertarian nominee for president in 1988, said he did not plan to start or lead a third party; he wants his ideas to influence the Republican Party.
Asked at a news conference about whether he might cost McCain the election -- if Paul’s voters boycott the Arizona senator -- Paul said he wasn’t “worried a whole lot about that” because the policies of the two major-party candidates weren’t that different.
He suggested that his supporters, who tend to be younger, would support Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, because they see him as more likely to withdraw from Iraq. But he said it was wrong to think Obama was any less “hawkish” than McCain.
Paul’s speech capped a day of speeches from members of the broad, sometimes scattered, coalition that lined up behind his candidacy.
“If you like Ron Paul, you’ll love the John Birch Society,” said John McManus, president of the ultra-right-wing group, in a speech that railed against illegal immigration.
Grover Norquist, president of the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, criticized Republicans who declined to sign his group’s written pledge to oppose any and all tax increases.
“Those Republican elected officials who vote for tax increases are rat heads in a Coke bottle: They damage the brand for everybody else,” Norquist said.