Ron Paul's 'Revolution'

Young voters wild about GOP candidate? Yes, but this guy's no typical Republican
2007-10-30T00:00:00Z Ron Paul's 'Revolution'By Daniel Scarpinato Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 30, 2007 12:00 am  • 

Twenty-year-old Rebecca Townsend is good at shattering political stereotypes.

The University of Arizona senior is vehemently against the war in Iraq. And if you get her started about how she thinks the Bush administration has trampled the Constitution, you'll get an earful.

However, she's also a Republican, and a proud one at that.

Her involvement in the party isn't passive. She serves as a local precinct committeewoman, a good spot for up-and-coming party activists.

Unlike the textbook image of college Republicans — sporting Oxford ties and sipping brandy — Townsend is vivacious, and she organizes dozens of Tucsonans to stand on street corners demonstrating in support of her chosen presidential candidate, Ron Paul.

In fact, it's Paul — a longtime Texas congressman and the lone anti-war GOP presidential candidate — who has attracted Townsend and other local young people to the Republican Party.

That's causing some growing pains. For example, the county Republican headquarters received complaints from Fourth Avenue merchants last month after Paul supporters lined the street with campaign stickers.

His young followers are showing up at meetings and events usually attended mostly by retired folks.

And like Townsend, they're aiming to move into leadership positions and put Paul's libertarian stamp on party practices.

Many say they have never voted, and their anti-establishment views don't blend with those of either major party.

More Libertarian than Republican (he was actually the 1988 Libertarian candidate for president), Paul is a 72-year-old obstetrician who has developed a substantial Internet and grass-roots following that has spread across the country and is now percolating in Arizona.

You can see his supporters' makeshift signs sprouting up around town. The "Ron Paul Revolution," as Townsend and other supporters like to call it, is injecting a dose of youth and excitement into local Republican circles.

The big question is whether it will all last once the presidential primaries fade away.

Local Republicans are doubtful.

"They're not about the Republican Party; they're candidate-specific," said Judi White, chair of the Pima County GOP. "It seems to me that the majority of them, in Tucson, they are young and they are enthusiastic. But they haven't been around before, and I think when Ron Paul is gone, you won't see them anymore."

Still, Paul supporters say their efforts are reinvigorating a "dying" party. If more Republicans adopted Paul's platform, the GOP might see a return to its true values, they contend.

As for the polls that show their candidate at the bottom of the pack, Paul supporters say his hidden popularity will become evident once actual votes are cast.

"Who are they calling in the national polls?" Townsend said. "They're calling people with land lines. I don't know anybody under the age of 30, not anybody, who has a land line anymore."

In May, local supporters started an Internet networking group, which now has close to 200 members. Paul is the only candidate to date who has an organized following on the UA campus. While Mitt Romney and John McCain have Tucson surrogates, Paul supporters are by far the most outwardly energetic.

"This campaign is spontaneous," said 25-year-old David Guthrie, who is leading the local efforts. "We're bringing in new people who aren't involved in politics."

That includes Yishi Garrard, an 18-year-old UA student who discovered Paul while fumbling around on YouTube over the summer.

"He understands the proper role of government," said Garrard, who like most Paul supporters talks about his candidate's consistent voting record.

Garrard and others have connected through the Internet. Sites such as Facebook and Meetup have brought these true believers together.

As the Republican debates have illustrated, Paul's strong online following is paying off. He consistently wins text-message and Internet polls asking who won the debate.

The online sophistication of his young followers has helped him pull in more donations than any other second-tier candidate — raising $118,079 in Arizona and more than $8 million nationally. Almost all that money has come through individual contributions.

"This campaign could not possibly have happened 10 years ago, because you didn't have the Internet," Townsend said. "There's no way that we would have known that each other existed in a town of 1 million people."

While Paul supporters don't hide their views about small government or their desire to get rid of the Internal Revenue Service, it's opposition to the war in Iraq that they all list as their top campaign issue.

"He's the first politician I've found that's actually honest and follows the Constitution," said Iranian-born Anwiya Youkhanna, a 21-year-old Air Force lieutenant who is expecting to be called to Afghanistan soon. Youkhanna joined 30 other Paul backers last week, holding signs of support at East Speedway and North Campbell Avenue.

The majority of sign-carriers were young faces, and this crowd of new Republicans says Democrats have dropped the ball on pulling out of Iraq. They stress that Paul, unlike Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, never supported going to Iraq in the first place.

"They're trying to go back and cover their tracks, and Ron Paul doesn't have any tracks to cover," Townsend said.

Those views irk traditional Republicans, who see Paul supporters as totally out of step with the values of the party.

Even so, Paul's local backers point out that they appear in many of the photos on the Pima County Republican Party's Web site. "When we show up at events, we sometimes outnumber everyone else," Guthrie said.

Local party leaders are careful not to overplay the impact of Paul supporters. And by their own admission, those supporters say that if Paul doesn't get the nomination — a likely scenario — the GOP nominee shouldn't count on their vote.

"The Ron Paul supporters I'm talking to not only believe he will get the nomination, but if by some chance he doesn't, we will write him in," Guthrie said.

His comments during debates indicate Paul might just do the same thing.

Paul marches to a different drummer

Some of Ron Paul's libertarian views don't jibe with those of the mainstream Republican Party.

Iraq: Paul advocates a pullout and says neoconservatives have "hijacked" America's foreign policy. He says Iran and Syria should be brought in.

Guns: Paul wants to repeal existing gun restrictions and end U.S. membership in the United Nations, "protecting us from their attempts to tax our guns or disarm us entirely."

Privacy: He wants to repeal the Patriot Act and opposes a national identification card. He says he "will prevent Washington from centralizing power and private data about our lives."

Social Security: Paul says lowering benefits, raising taxes and increasing the age of eligibility are not solutions, they are "betrayals." He would cut all taxes on benefits and prevent illegal immigrants from receiving benefits.

Health care: Government is too involved, he says. Paul argues that the Food and Drug Administration wastes money in legal fights to keep safe alternatives off the counters.

● Contact reporter Daniel Scarpinato at 307-4339 or dscarpinato@azstarnet.com.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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