Although on economic issues he is arguably the most conservative candidate now running for president in either major party, Republican Ron Paul is scoring surprisingly well across political boundaries these days, using campaigning techniques that his local Memphis organizer, Chris Holley, frankly attributes to Democratic populist Howard Dean.
"He's the father of the method," acknowledges Holley of
Dean, the former Vermont governor and current chairman of the Democratic
National Committee, whose dramatic run for president in 2003 and 2004 was based
on innovative grass-roots methods and extensive use of the Internet.
"We've taken Howard Dean's idea and put it on steroids," says Holley, citing as one example a massive effort this past weekend, in which local Paul enthusiasts, working from late Saturday into the wee hours of Sunday, put up "over 150 banners and 500 signs" touting the maverick Texas congressman's suddenly nascent presidential campaign.
The small signs, which are posted on utility poles and in
other right-of-way areas, appear to be stenciled. The banners advertise in large
block letters "The Ron Paul Revolution," and a curiosity of them is that the
four letters "evol" appear in a bright, superimposed red as the word "love"
If that smacks of the 1960s' flower children, that's at
least partly because the Paul movement contains several youthful activists of
that sort - like a twenty-ish girl calling herself "Sky" (a drummer in a rock
band, it turns out) who, one night last week, brandished a poster touting Paul
to Germantown Parkway traffic.
And, to look at the group's locally produced YouTube
offering, "The Ron Paul Revolution, Memphis Style," it would seem that the
similarities persist. The five-minute video offers a dose of politics flavored
with "BBQ, iced tea, and Elvis," and, to a background of the re-mastered Presley
song, "A Little Less Conversation," features a montage of Paul's local
supporters preparing and executing the sign-and-banner operation, called
"Painting the Town Ron."
A climactic scene has a group of Paulites holding banners
at the gates of Graceland itself.
"It's the most popular Ron Paul video on YouTube right now," boasts Holley proudly.
Holley himself grew up on Rush Limbaugh broadcasts and considers himself a movement conservative, but he acknowledges that Paul supporters, who come together via Internet-arranged "meet-ups," come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties. "We've got liberals, conservatives, libertarians, old, young, all kinds," Holley says.
One of the givens would seem to be a disaffection with the Bush administration on civil-liberties grounds and through a common opposition to the Iraq war.
It was libertarian Paul's fervid denunciation of the war
and of other "unconstitutional" interventions in foreign countries in a South
Carolina debate of Republican candidates three months ago that largely fueled
the candidate's current popularity.
Ever since, Paul seems to have downplayed less well-known
parts of his platform - like opposition to the Federal Reserve System - and has
mainly been asked about his anti-war position on venues like HBO's Real Time
With Bill Maher, whose notably acerbic and left-leaning host recently called
the wizened 71-year-old Paul "my new hero."
Paul is also something of a hero to Angelo Cobrasci, the founder of the Shelby County Conservative Republican Club and editor/publisher of The Mid-South Patriot.
"I'd celebrate big-time if he got elected president," says
Cobrasci, whose support for Paul is based on the Texan's defense of various
constitutional guarantees which Cobrasci sees as being in danger right now. "But
none of us really expect that he'll get that far. If he finished second or third
in a key state, or if he did well enough to become somebody's cabinet
possibility, that'd be great."
Cobrasci had hoped to attract Paul as a speaker for the SCCRC, but says ruefully, "We found out he was overbooked!"
Like Holley, Cobrasci sees the Paul movement as being broadly based, consisting of "a large variety of people that usually would not be seen with each other, Republicans, Democrats, people from 18 to 60."
Conventional wisdom says that the Paul boom will blow over, long before next year's election, but local leader Holley isn't so sure. "We're right up there with anybody nationally," he says, and wants to assure Memphians that there's more, much more, to come.