When about 500 voters packed into a New Hampshire town hall last week to hear Ron Paul speak, they saved their biggest applause for something no other Republican presidential candidate is talking about.
“I would like to restore your right to drink raw milk anytime you like!” Paul said to loud and sustained cheers in the historic Peterborough Town House.
It was an emblematic moment for Paul’s campaign, which is powered by his call for slashing federal government and expanding personal liberties, including the freedom to drink unpasteurized milk that the U.S. government brands “unsafe.”
“We’re fanatics,” said 24-year-old Tristan Contas of Durham, New Hampshire, a recent college graduate who is planning to spend the week before the state’s primary volunteering for Paul in a youth-driven push the campaign is organizing. “Young people don’t like people telling them what to do -- it’s a certain rebellion against the authority that is our government - - and Dr. Paul really speaks to that.”
Paul, 76, has attained cult-like status in his third run for the presidency. He is gaining in Republican primary polls in large part because of his penchant for saying things no one else in his party dares to, and not just about dairy products. He advocates auditing and then scrapping the Federal Reserve, withdrawing all U.S. troops from overseas war zones, and cutting $1 trillion in government spending in one year, including closing five federal agencies.
“I would be a different kind of president. I wouldn’t be looking for more power. Everybody wants to be a powerful executive and run things. I, as a president, wouldn’t want to run the world,” Paul said in a Fox News debate on Dec. 15.
An unorthodox message isn’t the only way Paul’s campaign is a world apart from that of his rivals. The eldest candidate in the race, his support includes legions of students and young professionals who provide a hipster vibe -- from the raw milk sometimes found in the refrigerator at the New Hampshire campaign headquarters in Concord to Paul’s appearances and frequent mentions on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central.
His political ads have received top reviews, in part because they are different from the predictable schoolroom or flag-filled settings. One commercial in Iowa is set to hard-rock music reminiscent of a monster truck rally and portrays Paul as a “big dog” with bite to match his bark, while the other candidates are “whimpering like little Shih Tzus.”
Staying on Message
“He’s been on message for what, now, about 30 years?” said Brian Vaillancourt, 48, an undecided independent voter who attended the Peterborough town hall. “His position is fortuitous because of the economic situation. We’re in this mess now, and he’s the only one who’s been warning about it and focusing on it for all this time. The brutal history and simplicity of his plan is appealing.”
Polls indicate it’s a message that is resonating with more Republican voters and giving Paul a chance to score an upset win in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses that begin the nominating process. And, even with the unusual outward trappings, Paul has built a strong foundation around his campaign with money, advisers and a voter-turnout organizing effort that will be implemented by his devoted followers.