Presidential hopeful Paul gets rock star welcome

Enthusiastic crowds greet Ron Paul in Colorado
The Colorado Statesman

More than 1,100 passionate supporters crammed a hotel ballroom to welcome long-shot presidential candidate Ron Paul to Denver on Tuesday as the Texas congressman became the first Republican to land in Colorado ahead of next week’s caucuses.

Vowing to cut $1 trillion from the federal budget during his first year in office, Paul said he would deliver on his promise of smaller government if elected president.

“If the government quit spending a trillion dollars, and you get to spend a trillion dollars, maybe you would spend it a little more wisely than the bureaucrats in Washington,” declared Paul, whose 40-minute speech at the Stapleton Renaissance Denver Hotel was regularly interrupted by cheers and shouts of support from the raucous crowd.

Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul, a Texas congressman, tells an over-flow crowd that the country needs to fix its monetary policy before the economy will improve during a campaign speech on Jan. 31 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

It was the second stop on Paul’s whirlwind tour through Colorado on Tuesday. That morning, he spoke to an enthusiastic crowd on the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins, and he finished with a rally at the Colorado Springs airport before boarding a jet for Nevada, which holds its caucuses Saturday.

Florida Republicans were still casting ballots — Paul ran a distant fourth there with 7 percent of the vote — when Paul kicked off what promises to be a furious week of national attention on Colorado, whose early Republican caucus this year has thrust the battleground state into the spotlight after only four other states have voted.

Paul didn’t strongly contest the Florida primary, which only awards delegates to the first-place finisher, but instead has focused his attention on caucus states where his committed supporters plan to amass enough delegates to matter at the Republican National Convention in late August. In addition to the Colorado caucuses next week, Minnesota and Maine Republicans are also convening to register their preferences.

Ron Paul supporters await the arrival of their candidate on Jan. 31 at the Renaissance Denver Hotel. Paul made three stops in Colorado this week in advance of next week's Republican caucuses.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum alit briefly and spoke to a crowd in Lone Tree that morning before winging it on to Nevada. He returned the next day for a full schedule of campaigning in Arapahoe County, Lakewood, Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. The race’s current front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has an event scheduled Saturday afternoon in Colorado Springs and will attend a fundraiser in Arapahoe County on Monday evening. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hadn’t scheduled any events in Colorado by press time, but his state organizers said to “stay tuned” for a visit.

Paul — who ran for president on the Libertarian ticket in 1988 and mounted a feisty, if ultimately unsuccessful bid for the GOP nomination four years ago — placed fourth in a 2008 straw poll of Colorado Republican caucus-goers. His 8 percent support trailed a dominant Romney, eventual nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. After plenty of organizing in the state — last fall, the Paul campaign opened the only office leased by a Republican presidential candidate in Colorado, though other campaigns are organizing intensive efforts throughout the state — Paul backers hope to secure more support this year.

Young Joshua Bishop isn't old enough to vote, but that doesn't stop him from showing his support for Ron Paul in a corner of the crowded ballroom where Paul held a rally on Feb. 1 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Republicans meet for precinct caucuses starting at 7 p.m. on Feb. 7 and plan to conduct a presidential preference poll at the start of the evening’s business. Results should be known by 9 p.m. that night, GOP officials predict. (Democrats caucus the same time on March 6.)

In recent polling, Paul trails his three GOP competitors, although some general-election match-ups show him within a few points of President Barack Obama and one survey shows Paul winning independent voters.

Saying “there is never a need to sacrifice personal liberty for security,” Paul called for the repeal of the PATRIOT Act and an end to foreign intervention, all part of his platform to restrain government and bolster personal liberty. If any line in his speech got the loudest reaction, it was probably his call for an end to the drug war. That drew whoops and hollers from the crowd, which had an unusually large contingent of young men in their 20s, routinely one of Paul’s strongest pools of supporters.

“When government grows, liberty is diminished,” Paul said.

Ron Paul supporters jostle to get a good view of the Republican presidential candidate during a rally on Feb. 1 at the Renaissance Denver Hotel.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Amid cheering, swooning and vigorous, spontaneous chants — “End! The! Fed!” went one, referring to Paul’s opposition to the Federal Reserve system — the event had the feel of a rock concert or revival meeting more than a political rally. After Paul finished speaking, rapturous autograph hounds thrust notebooks, posters and dollar bills at the politician, keeping him at the podium a good 10 minutes as his aides reminded him it was time to go.

“It was great — it was inspiring, I want to go make phone calls right now,” said an ebullient Tanner Caillouet after Paul spoke. He added that the Republican’s positions on the Federal Reserve and bringing troops home from abroad are reasons he supports Paul.

Paul is the only Republican candidate the young man said he is willing to support. “Newt used to sell access, though he denies it all the time. I can’t back someone like that. Santorum — he’s just Santorum,” he said with a laugh. “Mitt Romney flip-flopped too many times. You can’t trust someone like that.” Paul, on the other hand, delivers a message Caillouet said he can endorse: “Not messing with other people’s business.”

Craig Palmer wasn’t entirely convinced about Paul after the rally but said he’s giving the conservative strong consideration.

“I have my troubles with the two big guys,” he said. “I like Newt, but he has issues.” Mainly, Palmer said, “The nice thing is to be able to listen to these people speak without trying to answer or dodge these loaded questions they get in the debates.”

He said he wasn’t sure about a central platform of the Paul campaign — returning to the Gold Standard — but then admitted, “But I do own some gold, and I think our money is worthless.” Basically, he said, “There’s a lot to like about this guy.”

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul signs a notebook for a supporter after delivering a 40-minute speech that had the crowd roaring throughout on Jan. 31 in Denver. It was Paul's second campaign stop of the day in Colorado, following one at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and ahead of one at the Colorado Springs airport.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

It was a sentiment echoed by Marget Torcel, who said she changed her registration to Republican so she could participate in caucuses. “I’m normally a Democrat,” she said, adding that she had voted for Obama “and I’m pissed.”

She said Paul’s stance on liberty is what attracted her to his unconventional candidacy.

“I really liked what he had to say about bringing the troops home, ending the wars, getting back to personal freedom. I’m personally pro-choice,” she said. “I know he’s not. It doesn’t matter. He just wants us all to make our own decisions.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com
— Additional reporting by Ben Conarck