The Disciples of Ron Paul, Spreading the Word in N.H.
Monday, October 15, 2007
STRAFFORD, N.H. -- There's no mistaking which house on Lake Shore Drive, about 45 minutes northeast of Manchester, is the one full of Paulites -- the intensely loyal, almost fanatical supporters of Rep. Ron Paul. Signs are everywhere. On the back window of a brand new black Toyota, on the bumper of a green Geo, on a white Volvo station wagon that sits beside a beat-up lime green Honda. "Ron Paul 2008."
"We can run the whole New Hampshire campaign right here," says Jim Forsythe, 39, a former Air Force pilot who's on his driveway in jeans, T-shirt and white socks. "We're the hard-core supporters."
Like Paul himself, the Paulites are against the war in Iraq, against the growing federal bureaucracy, against the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Education, the income tax, against, as Forsythe says, "politics as we've known it."
Inside Forsythe's kitchen, snacking on spinach dip, there's Kelly Halldorson, 34, a mother of three whose first presidential vote went to Bill Clinton. And Jane Aitken, 58, a retired art teacher who voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004. And Will Albenzi, 28, a security guard who's gotten so disillusioned with the Republican and Democratic parties that he belongs to neither.
And this being the Granite State, the first primary state famous for its independent "Live Free or Die" attitude, there's Chris Lawless, a 38-year-old software technician who's followed Paul's career since 1988, when the obstetrician-turned-congressman ran for the White House as the Libertarian Party nominee.
In a state where Patrick Buchanan upset Bob Dole, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, more than a decade ago, anything is possible, says Andrew Smith, a pollster and director of the University of New Hampshire's Survey Center. As of last November, 26 percent of New Hampshire's electorate were registered Democrats and 30 percent were Republicans. But the biggest block of voters -- 44 percent -- were undeclared. Forty percent to 45 percent of those, Smith says, leaned Democrat and 25 percent to 30 percent Republican.
But whatever their backgrounds, the Paulites have catapulted a Republican candidate often described "eccentric," "unknown" and a "long shot" into a spotlight. Paul may be the candidate who has tapped into that independent and frustrated portion of the electorate that in every race is looking for a third way.
This month, the 10-term Texas Republican stunned the GOP field by raising a little more than $5 million in the third quarter, 70 percent of it from online donations; Sen. John McCain, once considered the front-runner for the GOP nomination, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who placed a strong second in the Iowa straw poll in August, raised $6 million and $1 million, respectively. For months now, Paul has been the most popular GOP candidate on the Web, with more supporters on MySpace, Facebook and Meetup than Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson or Mitt Romney, who won the Iowa straw poll and leads in the polls here.
"Everyone -- the staffers in the other campaigns, the bigwig political observers in the state -- is scratching their heads. They don't know what to make of this Ron Paul phenomenon," pollster Smith says. A University of New Hampshire poll last month showed Paul at 4 percent in the state. The most recent Washington Post-ABC News national poll, also from last month, had him at 3 percent. "The other campaigns aren't worried that he'd win the primary. They just don't know who his supporters are and whose support he's taking away," Smith adds. "His poll numbers aren't high now, but it's only October. And they could see him getting 10 percent of the vote here. If you get 10 percent of the vote in a crowded field, well, you might finish third." But the Paulites are aiming for higher than third place.
Last week, they gathered at Forsythe's house to watch the latest GOP presidential debate. Forsythe is the most recent Paulite convert of the bunch. The father of two heard Paul speak in February and remembers how he derided big government and unnecessary wars. Says Forsythe, an aerospace engineer: "That really got me. I fought in Bosnia, Somalia and Iraq, the Iraq before this Iraq war.
"I just couldn't believe a politician was talking about these things," he says. "And the thing is, what's going on with Ron Paul, what he's tapping into, speaks to how much the Republican Party has lost its way."
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