Before his speech Rep. Ron Paul hung around outside the Hilton Washington ballroom, talking to anyone who recognized him. Max Blumenthal, the merry Nation prankster, grilled the candidate and about his views on Israel's role in the end times. ("I've never really thought about that.") A bearded Jacob Sullum lookalike asked him whether he believed in the devil ("Well, not a guy with horns and a pitchfork") and whether liberals represented Satan here on earth ("I don't think so"). Screwball presidential candidate Daniel Imperato grilled him on whether he was related to Imperato's cousin Paul. ("No.")
I had been waiting to see who exited the hall when Paul's name was announced; a sucker's game, as no one patient enough to endure Duncan Hunter's feverish belching was going to stiff Paul. He entered to polite applause and started talking about the growth of his campaign. "We have a simple message," he said. "It's not complex. Freedom is much better than government bureaucracy and socialism. Freedom works." So, steps one through 1000: "All we have to do enforce and obey the Constitution!" Less applause than when Fred Thompson blubbered about seeing his baby's sonogram, but loud enough.
Like he did when I saw him at the Ames Straw Poll, Paul did some light surgery on his stump speech. The war was dealt with in a fairly small section, sans references to "neocons," and "sound finances" came up but weren't hammered home. Paul swapped in a story he tells at pro-life gatherings about when he was a medical student and he walked in on an abortion. "They took a two-pound baby out of the mother," he said, "and it was crying, but they put it in a basket and pretended they didn't hear it. And it died." Bambi's mother got slugged; the crowd "awwwd." "Since then the Supreme Court has legalized that process. Our goal should be to repeal Roe v. Wade!" He spoke about the First Amendment with a religious twist, decrying campaign speech laws that "tell ministers what they can't and can't say from the pulpit. They have no right to come down on our ministers!"
It didn't get the loudest applause but the best little moment was when Paul got into his department-cutting kick: "I don't even think we should have Department of Education!" At that all the high schoolers from TeenPact, an evangelical group that teaches kids about government, got up and cheered.
In the small media/fan scrum before the speech, I asked Paul if he'd followed the controversy over a possible religious right third party and whether he'd be their candidate. He's heard of it but isn't interested; he's "not going to run as a third party candidate." But a few minutes later I talked to some Paul voters and heard support (which they said was echoed back home) for a third party Paul candidacy on a Libertarian/Constitution Party fusion ticket.