Ron Paul in New Hampshire: Scenes from the Long Road to Some Place


As the voters continue to vote their votes here on voting day in New Hampshire, Ron Paul predicted a good number two for himself, hit some polling places, and continued to lead a multi-state revolution of ideas and actions.

Paul this morning told me he wasn't trying to keep his eyes on early poll numbers that might trickle out today, and had a "stoic" attitude about whatever might happen. (Which is good, because it isn't looking good right now for his second place according to Fox News early exit poll data–they are claiming Huntsman will very possibly get second.)

[UPDATE: Off to the Paul campaign's returns-watching event so I can't update this all night, but actual 5 percent of real returns from CNN have Paul keeping his second place handily, with 25 to Huntsman's 15. We'll see. If Paul maintains this lead, all the Huntsman-on-the-rise chatter up to this second will need some 'splaining.]

I've been following him and his supporters around for the past five days; herewith some scenes and observations from the Ron Paul Revolution on the march in New Hampshire.

*While his opinions and judgments of his fellow seekers of the nomination are the least interesting aspect of Ron Paul as an important figure on the American scene (which is why Saturday's debate, where Paul was forced to defend his campaign's attack ads or comments on Santorum and Gingrich, didn't thrill me), talking crap about each other is often considered the newsiest news there is when it comes to presidential campaigns. Thus, Paul's refusal to join the scrum of attacks on Romney for either Bain Capital or his "fire people" comment was big news. Paul's campaign issues two press releases today on the topic, accusing the other candidates of using leftist, moveon.org tactics, questioning the value of business and capitalism. 

I heard Paul saying something on the same topic this morning in front of a polling place in Nashua, about the Bain Capital attacks on Romney. Paul called it "typical politics." He admitted he doesn't know anything specific about how Bain was run, but says such chatter "is not addressing the real issues, the financial crisis…probably by real calculations we have 20 percent unemployment, so to talk about how he managed a company? I don't see it." Paul stood up for the idea of restructuring specifically: "This is a policy in the marketplace, it saves businesses. If a business is in big trouble and goes under everyone loses their job. If you restructure you might save some."

The idea that Paul never attacks or is a benefit to Romney has been floating around lately; Paul Gigot in the Wall Street Journal says that if Romney wins, he'll owe Paul "a fee for services rendered." The Washington Post, without suggesting collusion either open or secret, points out as long as Paul keeps fighting it out, it will be harder for any other challenger to unseat Romney. (No matter what happens today, I still think this will be a Romney-Paul race a month from now.) 

From my months covering the campaign for my forthcoming book, I did catch some wind–with no specific details–that there was reasonably open communication between the two camps and possibly something that amounted to an uneasy truce in these early stages. Romney hasn't been very vicious against Paul either. But it is not at all true that Paul never attacks Romney, even beyond his generic attacks on all his opponents as the representatives of an unsupportable status quo. Paul's campaign ran specific Romney attack radio ads in the last days before the Iowa caucus. And while both may be looking forward to the day when the other is the only one they have to worry about, any uneasy alliance of convenience between the two will, I think, clearly become the war over the soul of the Republican Party moving into the summer and beyond.

*Big reason why the demonstrated public crowds and affection for Paul at his various appearances here may not be reflected in the election results: lots and lots of them are young road warriors from out of town—Syracuse, Philadelphia, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, anywhere. I commiserated on this aspect with other reporters: the first one, two, three people you approach at any Paul event in New Hampshire are likely to not be from New Hampshire.

This is great for both the demonstrative and more directly effective (according to the campaign pros) aspects of his campaign: lots of people knocking doors, handing out literature, sign waving on big corners or at polling places, filling the rooms he appears to more than capacity, and phone banking. Maybe not as many people voting as they might like. (I've heard calls for the road warriors to not go to campaign appearances, or at least to wait outside until would-be voters have filled the room.) If you are a New Hampshire resident doing Paul activism, there's a decent chance you are a member or fellow traveler of the Free State Project.

*If you show up to a Ron Paul event in New Hampshire within 10 minutes of the announced start time, you'll be parking a mile away and won't be able to get in the door.

*The old-fashioned stenciled Ron Paul Revolution, Ron Paul Freedom, Ron Paul Prosperity, banners can once again be seen from most freeway overpasses in New Hampshire.

*More word on yesterday's media-scrum-heard-round-the-world, where Paul's wife Carol was shoved by a reporter and the candidate had to disappoint possible supporters at MoeJoe's diner in Manchester: an old-hand Associated Press photog who gave me a needed lift today when a polling place address differed from what the campaign had told us told me that he had in all his decades as a news photographer only once seen a media scrum as difficult and out-of-control: outside the grand jury hearings for Betty Currie (Clinton's secretary during the Monica days). He said yesterday's crowd included lots of straight-up New York professional paparazzi, not even all news cameras. It is indeed strange; I've been to a lot of Paul events in the past week, and that was the only one that overwhelmed, though when Paul showed up to a Manchester school/polling place this afternoon, there were about 30 people and cameras blocking his every step from vehicle to polling place.

*Paul's speeches are still unscripted and unrehearsed, and still meander through his core and some of his peripheral ideas in an unpredictable order. You will almost always hear about his plan to cut a trillion in year one and balance the budget by year three with no new taxes; how he thinks this can be done without attacking aid to the poor or dependent in the short term; how we need to bring troops home and end undeclared wars not fought in our own defense, and that military spending is not defense spending, for the most part.

*More on this in later writings, but the Paul on the ground and on the phone campaign operations seems to me as strong and thorough as it could possibly be, and any deficiencies in Paul's results tonight are far more likely to be the fault of citizen's willingness or ability to actually accept Paul's political beliefs than it is any fault of professional execution of a campaign.

*I talked to a lot of Paul fans. The more Paul fans you talk to, the less surprising or revealing the experience of talking to them is. It's not that complicated, really. They believe that government is in fiscal trouble, and they believe that changes in monetary and foreign policy are necessary to deal with it. They believe in American constitutional liberty as they traditionally understand it. Some of them were already marinated in this libertarian set of ideas before discovering Paul, but most of them were lead to it by Paul. Many, many of them have Paul fan origin stories set in seeing one of the 2007 debates or having friends send them YouTube videos of some sort, many just of Paul talking. Many of them get their information from "alternative" sources, from Daily Paul to Infowars, though the meaning of "alternative sources of information" is probably getting less and less meaningful. They generally think the status quo media and powers-that-be have it in for their man Paul. I've met here in New Hampshire Occupiers from two states, homeschooling families, Comcast technicians, mortgage brokers, sports journalists, young camera jockeys who claim they were responsible for the filming and spreading of Gingrich's embarassing "Jefferson and Washington would have wanted to punish people for growing hemp" video, three different state representatives, combat veterans among many others. Some of them will appear in my later Reason magazine feature on the Ron Paul campaign, in our April issue, subscribe today!

*Meeting Ron Paul is no longer just a coveted "get" for his fans; he's become a full-on general interest political celebrity. Lurking around the back door of his Meredith appearance Sunday I met a family who just enjoy meeting and having their children meet prominent political celebs; they weren't sure they were going to vote for Ron Paul, but they were waiting in the cold with their kids to meet him anyway.

*When asked questions about campaign strategy, Paul still says that as far as he's concerned, he'll keep doing the same thing he's been doing for 30 years: telling people about the benefits of liberty, personal and economic, and the dangers of out-of-control spending, debt, and foreign policy, in as many venues as he can. That strategy has gotten him farther than he expected already.