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Ron Paul Nation: the other convention in town

An army of supporters descends on Minnesota to push an antiwar, antigovernment agenda.

By Ariel SabarStaff writer / September 2, 2008

Rep. Ron Paul spoke to a group of supporters in this June 2008 file photo. More than 10,000 members of the Ron Paul Nation paid $17.76 (get it?) to attend a convention in Minnesota to celebrate the Texas congressman’s candidacy and advance his antiwar, anti-government, pro-Gold Standard agenda among Republicans at the official GOP convention in nearby St. Paul.

David J. Phillip/AP/FILE

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Blaine, Minn.

If some John McCain supporters suffer from what pollsters have called an “enthusiasm gap,” those of GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul might be accused of an enthusiasm surplus.

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More than 10,000 members of the Ron Paul Nation paid $17.76 (get it?) to attend a convention in Minnesota to celebrate the Texas congressman’s candidacy and advance his antiwar, anti-government, pro-Gold Standard agenda among Republicans at the official GOP convention in nearby St. Paul.

“Ronvoys” of chartered vans have been streaming in since the weekend. Supporters are camping at an organic dairy farm in Goodhue, Minn., that is home to “Ronstock ’08,” a six-day culture-fest where the farmer’s neighbor has reportedly donated a cow to the food offerings. And thousands are expected in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday for the 10-hour marquee “Rally for The Republic,” featuring speakers from former governors Jesse Ventura of Minnesota and Gary Johnson of New Mexico to antitax activist Grover Norquist and MSNBC correspondent Tucker Carlson.

“I’m a social liberal and a fiscal conservative, and there’s nobody else out there that has that combination,” Linda Barr, a retired journalist from Pe Ell, Wash., population 700, said at a musical celebration Monday night in this suburb north of Minneapolis. “Have you heard of the statement ‘Ron Paul cured my apathy’? That’s it in a nutshell.”

As some political experts see it, the Ron Paul phenomenon reflects deepening fault lines in the Republican party, which has struggled in recent years to hold together its coalition of small-government activists, social conservatives, and defense hawks.

Many Paul supporters “have no particular internal coherence but use an opportunity like this to express that we need another way,” says Walter Stone, a political science professor at the University of California, Davis who has written about outsider presidential candidates. “People are latching on to him because he has a certain notoriety.”

But as others view it, the Ron Paul Nation is just as much a product of the blogosphere. “What Ron Paul shows is that in this Internet era you can identify a thin substratum of people across the country, energize them, and turn out 10,000 people in a basketball stadium,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “But it can’t win elections and probably can’t affect the outcome of them.”

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