Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iowans for Paul: Diverse, Articulate, and Hopeful

Ron Paul started his day of campaign events yesterday with a bang, as hundreds of supporters and members of the media crammed into a ballroom at the Marriott in Des Moines, where many news outlets happen to have housed their staff.


Steve McTee from Des Moines supported John McCain in the last election because he viewed the Senator as a maverick who would change things in Washington, but at end of the day he was disappointed with the candidate. This year he held out longer in choosing who to support, waiting until two months ago.

What is it that McTee sees in Paul? He knows what he wants, and supports returning more power back to the states.  Citing a Rick Perry event that he watched the other day on television, McTee said he was disappointed that Perry frequently glanced down to reference his notes, to the extent that it seemed he didn't know what his next sentence was going to be. By contrast, Paul mixes up his remarks from event to event without any written assistance.


Later in the afternoon, Paul addressed over two hundred supporters at the Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids. Andrew Struss drove over ten hours from Rapid City, South Dakota with his half-sister Naomi Posivio. Struss, a veteran of the Air Force who served a five month tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2006, cites Paul's foreign policy positions as the deciding factor in choosing for whom to cast his vote. Struss' enthusiasm has inspired his college-age sister, too, and Posivio confidently chimes in that she's "finally found a politician she can follow."


Twice during the event Paul's supporters began chanting the candidate's name. Organic chanting, that is, not the stirred up applause typical for candidates like Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry, whose staff helped drum up cheers at a campaign rally in Perry (yes, that's Perry, Iowa) last night.

A similarly authentic excitement for Paul was evident again this morning in West Des Moines, when he addressed a large crowd of voting-age students from Valley High School at an event organized by the school and voter registration group "Rock the Vote." After a sarcastic ovation for Michele Bachmann and meager support for Rick Santorum despite the candidate repeatedly appealing to students with references to the school's mascot, the students greeted Ron Paul with loud and sustained applause.


Paul didn't hesitate to poll the crowd on their familiarity with Kelly Clarkson, the pop singer who endorsed him last week. He noted that after her vocal support, Ron Paul fans helped boost sales of the artist's music on iTunes by 600%. The mention of her name seemed to wake up even the most distracted high school student in the crowd.


When Ron Paul noted that "the fruits of your labor should be for you to spend, not the government," I heard an "Amen brother" rise up from somewhere in the bleachers. From the issue of internet freedom to the cost of college and his concern over sending young people to fight in unnecessary wars, Paul's positions resonated deeply with the students.

Sara Brown, a Valley High School senior, agreed and noted that the other candidates rub her the wrong way. "I'm not gay, but Michele Bachmann hates on everyone," she said, voicing a sentiment typical of many young voters who find that religious overtures by the candidates misrepresent the diversity of American religious affiliations.


After two days on the trail with Ron Paul in Iowa, his supporters display a remarkable positivity, work ethic, and candidness, but not everyone here has such a favorable view of the fine doctor. Earlier this week at a Newt Gingrich meet and greet in Marshalltown, Bill and Maryln Egleston let me know they're voting for Mitt Romney to make sure Ron Paul doesn't carry the state; they're skeptical of his isolationist foreign policy views. Even in an election year marked by the "anti-Mitt" vote, many Iowans are still casting protest votes for Romney against the other candidates.

When the Eglestons finished speaking, another voter nearby mentioned that her grandson's daily postings about Ron Paul appear on her Facebook news feed, articulating one of Paul's challenges: the over-saturation of the Congressman's message by his supporters. In a Caucus process where candidates often benefit from the eleventh-hour excitement of voters who were previously unfamiliar with them, the enthusiasm of Dr. Paul's supporters could backfire and turn wary voters away. But if Paul's support from first time voters at Valley High School can translate into votes later tonight, he's got a powerful group of allies, too.


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