They're coming from Miami and Seattle, from the "big sky" state of Montana, and from close to home here in New Hampshire. They're coming to help political iconoclast Ron Paul get elected president – many as campaign first-timers who, characteristically independent, may not even feel obliged to tell the Paul camp what exactly they're planning to do on the candidate's behalf.
The Paulites' push for old-style, on-the-ground politicking in New Hampshire, coming just five weeks before the primary, marks a change for a support network that has always relied on websites and online fundraising. They're here now because they see the Granite State – with its reputation as antitax, anti-big government, and pro-individual freedom – as especially fertile ground for a libertarian-leaning Republican candidate like Mr. Paul.
"New Hampshire is really important because it's the first primary and it sends a message to other states about who's viable and who the leading candidates are. There was all this Internet enthusiasm, but we didn't have enough boots on the ground," says Vijay Boyapati, a Google engineer who recently left the Seattle firm to work on Paul's campaign.
Mr. Boyapati arrived Saturday in Manchester, N.H., to head up a project of his own invention: Operation Live Free or Die, named after the state motto. His aim is to bring 1,000 volunteers to New Hampshire to canvass for Paul. He calculates that if each volunteer, working seven to eight hours a day, meets 100 people daily, then the project can reach out personally to almost all 100,000 residents of Manchester before the Jan. 8 primary.
Then there's Linda Lagana of Merrimack, N.H. Using her graphic-design talent and a small print shop, she has been creating Paul-for-president ads and fliers for months on the cheap. Her materials have ended up in the hands of voters across the state – and are even preferred to official campaign literature. Her highest-profile project so far: designing an advertisement published in USA Today the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Trevor Lyman, an online music promoter, already helped raise $4.2 million for Paul in a one-day Internet event Nov. 5. Two weeks ago he moved from Miami to Manchester, where he lives in a "frat house" with seven bedrooms, he says. He spends his days and nights working on other "money bomb" campaigns for the GOP candidate. At 37, Mr. Lyman plans to cast his first vote ever – for Paul on Jan. 8.
Once politically apathetic, these Paul supporters join many others who have become turbocharged almost overnight.
Now they've launched Five for Freedom, a campaign to get people to contribute $5 each to help those who want to live and volunteer in New Hampshire. So far, the cause has received more than 1,200 pledges.
Another money campaign is Lyman's bid to raise $10 million online on Dec. 16, the anniversary of the 1773 Boston Tea Party protest of taxation without representation. Nearly 24,000 people have pledged to donate $100. Lyman's fundraiser highlights an "inflation tax." The donation website, teaparty07.com, links to a YouTube video in which Paul, during a TV appearance, explains the toll on citizens as the cost of living rises and the dollar declines in value.
Paul's bricks-and-mortar campaign, for its part, is not involved in these "day to donate" efforts and uses more traditional methods, such as phone banking and literature drops, to court Granite State voters. It bought $1.1 million in local TV ad time and has nine people on staff in New Hampshire, up from five a few months ago, according to the campaign.
There are signs that Paul is beginning to make a dent here, after months of registering in the low single digits in polls of likely GOP voters. In several polls he is running fourth or fifth, with 8 percent. But the American Research Group, which released the latest survey Friday, shows Paul at 2 percent among that GOP group. He's at 7 percent among independents.
Paul draws support from those who are disaffected with both the Republican and Democratic parties, says Andrew Smith, who directs the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. "He has a cap of about 10 to 15 percent of the electorate and hasn't reached it yet," he says.
Paul's campaign and grass-roots supporters say they can reach beyond that.
"New Hampshire is uniquely suited to be a springboard for Ron Paul, since it's a small-government-minded state," says Kate Rick, media coordinator for the Paul campaign in the state.
Boyapati, the former Google engineer, wants to be that springboard. He plans to meet with a real estate agent this week to rent out 50 to 100 vacation homes in the state to Paul backers, he says, and has been flooded with e-mails from prospective volunteers, including a single mother with no savings and a retired couple from Montana.
When volunteers arrive, the plan is for them to go straight to Paul campaign headquarters, where they'll get information packets about the obstetrician-turned-congressman and his issues.
"They're going to train canvassers to be respectful, not leaving materials in the mailbox when people aren't home. Etiquette is important. We're all guests in New Hampshire," says Boyapati.
It probably won't be too long before volunteers find Paulites' watering holes, as Boyapati did. Murphy's Taproom, an Irish pub in downtown Manchester, is one venue where supporters meet to talk strategy, particularly on Tuesday nights. Boyapati was there the day he arrived and got a surprise: Paul himself showed up, stood on a chair, and gave an impromptu speech. "It was kind of explosive," says Boyapati. "The whole place was cheering and screaming."
Many Paul supporters cite their man's opposition to the Iraq war as the key reason he has their support. Paul is the only Republican candidate to call for pulling US troops out of Iraq, and he voted against going to war in 2002.
"The wake-up point was the 2006 election. The Democrats ran on a campaign of let's get out of the war. It was a betrayal," says Lyman. "What they did was a 'surge.' There was more war after a campaign that was against the war."
Not all Paul's issues are in the mainstream. Some supporters seize upon his call to legalize competing currencies, including gold and silver, and eventually abolish the Federal Reserve, eliminate the Internal Revenue Service, and renounce America's membership to the United Nations. But they share a common trait: wanting to restore the Constitution, says a Paul campaign spokeswoman.
"I'm a big constitutionalist. Everyone falls under the constitutionalism umbrella, whether it's the war or other issues," says the campaign's Ms. Rick.
Paul does have huge hurdles to overcome. In focus groups, some women see him as "inconsistent" in that he holds libertarian views but is opposed to a woman's right to choose abortion, says Dick Bennett of the American Research Group in Manchester. Sixty-one percent of likely GOP voters in New Hampshire say they will not vote for him under any circumstances, according to a University of New Hampshire poll.
But some say that if Paul is smart he'll stay focused on the Granite State. "New Hampshire is where the Republicans are going to be duking it out," says Arnie Arnesen, a TV and radio talk-show host here.
"He has a passionate base, and this is a numbers game." With so many candidates in the race, she adds, "he just needs to get a majority of the minority."