Stories of Ron Paul's wellspring of support sound like the stuff of urban legend. Politically inactive citizens suddenly become fervent supporters of Paul after catching a TV segment or Internet video clip. It's like love at first sight; they pledge to do whatever they possibly can to get him elected.
Matthew Buckman's is one such story. The 25-year-old New Hampshirite was "not at all" politically active until just over a month ago. What happened? He was searching YouTube for music videos from a favorite heavy metal band, when he came across a video of the Texas Representative turned presidential candidate. The speech had been posted by the band, so Buckman watched it, and was instantly hooked.
"As soon as I heard about him," Buckman told me after a Ron Paul town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire, "I went right to the headquarters and started calling people." He hasn't stopped, apparently: "I have called over 2,000 people for him."
Buckman was attracted, like many Paul supporters, by the candidate's opposition to the War on Drugs, his less interventionist foreign policy, and what you might call the whole package: the Congressman's straight-talking, honest demeanor.
If there are many people like Buckman out there, Paul could shock the political establishment by claiming third place or higher in the today's primary. However, there is one hitch. Though the state is currently convulsed with Paul supporters, many are from out of state and are thus ineligible to vote.
ON SUNDAY, I ATTENDED the New Hampshire Liberty Forum in Nashua where Paul was slated to make a speech closing the four-day conference. The Crowne Plaza Hotel was so packed that I was forced to park illegally in an adjacent lot.
The room where Paul was to speak contained what I eyeballed to be over 200 people. They were fired up. Some were waving American flags while others thrust their fists in the air or hollered. Not known to be a rousing speaker, Paul still electrified the crowd by promising them that, if elected, he would bring the troops home from Iraq immediately and work to abolish the Federal Reserve.
After the speech, I interviewed more than a dozen people. Some were recent converts to Paul, having never heard of him before his entry into the Presidential race, while others were more seasoned libertarians. All of them were willing to do just about anything to help him win the Republican nomination.
* Michelle Murphy flew to New Hampshire all the way from Washington state to campaign for Paul. "Politically confused," but a registered Republican, Murphy said she was attracted to Paul because working for a government contractor convinced her that our current bureaucracy is a mass of red tape, and Paul is the proverbial giant pair of scissors.
* A former Howard Dean and John Kerry supporter, Brooke Moore recently learned about Ron Paul from her brother. She became a supporter of Paul for his "foreign policy stance and his monetary policy." Like many others campaigning for Paul, however, she too was not a resident of the Granite state.
* Aidan Loewer, a recent college grad, switched his party registration from Libertarian to Republican in order to vote for Ron Paul. His vote, however, will have to count in Pennsylvania, where he is a resident.
On it went. Many out of the out-of-staters in New Hampshire to campaign for Paul are being put up by Operation Live Free or Die, "an effort," according to the Concord Monitor, "to bring 1,000 people to New Hampshire before the primary to campaign for Ron Paul."
The project, like much of the so-called Ron Paul Revolution, is run independently of Paul's campaign. A former Google engineer organizes the effort and provides a place of residence of the campaigners.
LATER THAT DAY, I attended a Paul town hall meeting to be televised on a local TV station. The event was supposed to target independent voters who have not made up their mind on who to support yet.
While there must have been some such voters there, I couldn't find a single one after the event ended. As far as I could tell, these were all die-hard Paul supporters.
As I exited the television studio and headed to my rental car, I began to run down the mental checklist. Yes, Ron Paul had fervent supporters, but weren't too many of them from out-of-state to make a difference for Paul in New Hampshire? Could he really place third?
I ran into a group of Ron Paul campaigners, all from out of state, and put it to them. I asked whether those campaigning with them were mainly from New Hampshire or from elsewhere?
One of the Paulites quickly answered that a high percentage -- probably 80 percent -- were from in-state. Then, he paused to think about that for a second and changed his answer. He said that just about everybody he had met campaigning so far had actually been from out of state. He added that maybe he had just interacted with the wrong people.
Maybe so, but it seems odd that both of us would have the same experience. It's possible that when the votes are counted tonight, Ron Paul's virtual campaign will have failed to take root in New Hampshire soil.
Jamie Weinstein, a recent Collegiate Network Journalism Fellow, is a freelance writer covering the 2008 Presidential Election.
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