Editors’ Note: One year from this month, we will be seeing a new face in the White House. This political shift is one of the most anticipated in recent years and carries with it the future of our troubled nation. For the past several months, the political fervor has been high: candidate signs are stuck firmly in lawns, people are glued to CNN/YouTube debates and Bush countdown clocks adorn key chains and office desks.
To say the least, this election year is an important one, and TBG will be taking an in-depth look at one hopeful each month in an effort to get a conversation started on campus about who we want to run our country. By November, you should be well prepared to cast your ballot.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may have initially overshadowed the field of progressive candidates, but another important contender is stepping out from their shadows. And he’s bringing with him a curious, yet serious, band of followers heavily compromised of young people, many of whom previously aligned themselves with liberal politics. [paul12]
With his political platform and unique conservatism, Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) seems like an Ayn Rand-type hero, created to show the world the political-economic system of objectivism. While being a white Republican may cause you to question this candidate’s unique charm, Paul’s politics are anything but ordinary. He’s against universal health care, considers world governmental organizations like the U.N. a serious threat to U.S. sovereignty, has a “Six-Point Plan” for securing the border and wants to overturn the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade (1973), according to the official campaign Web site.
None of that seems too shocking – until these goals are combined with the other components of his platform. He’s calling for immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq, refuses to consider a pre-emptive strike on Iran, wants to give teachers a $3,000 tax credit and plans on exempting tips from federal income and payroll taxes.
This extreme range in Paul’s views may have harmed his popularity in the beginning of the campaign race, but Paul’s backing skyrocketed this fall, especially among college students who once considered themselves liberal.
Support from these particular students is definitely forming a trend, and some are even calling it a “fad.” But numbers don’t lie. In the 24 hours of Nov. 5, 36,672 individual donors raised more than $4.2 million for the campaign. More than $4 million was contributed online, through Paul’s official campaign site. Paul’s total sum raised through the Web site defeated the previous record of $2.7 million raised online, held by John Kerry from his 2004 presidential campaign, according to USA Today.com. It was the biggest fundraising day for any candidate at the time, according to the Ron Paul campaign Web site. Of the 36,672 donors, more than 20,000 were first-time donors, indicating a likely series of younger voters.
“I think it’s monumental in coming from eight years of Republican control – kids that tend to go liberal aren’t because of him,” political science sophomore Adrianne Downing said. “But I notice that people aren’t fully understanding everything that he stands for – they’re just looking at what really affects them; he’s all for immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq and against the war on drugs. They’re not taking time to look at other aspects of his campaign.” [ronpaul2]
Despite these fundraising numbers, Paul wasn’t getting a fraction of the media attention the other candidates were receiving at the time. This lack of news coverage involving Paul was perplexing to Adam Enfroy, a telecommunications, information and media studies sophomore. After finding out Paul had more than 20 million more Google search hits than Clinton, but only three news articles on CNN.com (at the time), Enfroy started to do a little research.
“I thought to myself, why could this be?” Enfroy said. “I realized that Ron Paul is the only candidate who isn’t funded by lobbyists or multinational corporations. A corporation like CNN or Fox News would never let Ron Paul see the light of day, as he is against the current corporate agenda and the military industrial complex. He relies on small supporters.”
So Enfroy gathered such supporters and started the MSU chapter of Students for Ron Paul (MSUSFRP). Students for Ron Paul has chapters in schools across 48 states; Michigan alone has 15 separate schools with their own chapters. MSUSFRP was created this fall and is now composed of a little more than 100 members.
Despite being president of MSUSFRP, Enfroy also fits into the operational definition of the “Ron Paul Fad,” since he previously considered himself “a Democrat with liberal views.” Perhaps the “Ron Paul Fad” among college students was started by, as Enfroy said, “a growing disillusionment with the government.”
“Since most candidates are bought and paid for by powerful corporate interests, there is no real difference between mainstream Republicans or Democrats,” Enfroy said.
Or perhaps it’s just a matter of good marketing that many young college students are leaving their liberal posts to run down Paul’s campaign trail. “My notion is (Paul) has really good, savvy marketing techniques for young people,” said Drew Winter, an English and journalism senior. When Winter published the editorial, “Supporting Ron Paul Is New Fad” on Nov. 12 in The State News, he just wanted to balance the issues out. But when the column generated a torrent of negative feedback, “it took me by surprise – I wasn’t expecting a lash-out,” Winter said. “But Ron Paul supporters are known for their tenacity.”
Besides papering campus with stickers, waving signs and handing out fliers, MSUSFRP also employs some unconventional techniques to raise money and awareness for the campaign. They go around dorms to collect cans and bottles and donate the money from the deposit costs. They set up a tailgate spot and made a YouTube video. They create huge banners and fight the cold and wind to hold them over expressways.
Oh, and they threw a kegger. With a band.
All the dedication for Paul must be working. On Nov. 28, Paul stepped into the spotlight at the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate. Sixty percent of CNN voters thought Paul was the debate winner, according to an online poll conducted by CNN. CNN voters also chose Paul as the winner in four of the remaining six questions.
However, the perceptions of viewers and political experts didn’t quite match up. Three political consultants were also polled on their opinions in the seven questions, and not one chose Paul as the winner in any of the questions. “The mainstream media is underestimating him,” said Phil Letten, a general business administration junior and adamant Paul supporter. “You have to look at grassroots support – it shows supporting Paul is not a fad.” [ronpaul3]
Therefore, it only makes sense Paul’s grassroots support system seems to have enlisted fundraising techniques that could be considered unconventional. Grassroots efforts have been very successful for Paul, despite not being technically associated with the official campaign. Projects are instead sponsored by outside political campaigning companies, like the Liberty League PAC – dedicated to supporting candidates who endorse ideals of freedom, according to their Web site – and the for-profit company Liberty Political Advertising.
One of the unorthodox fundraising events, The Tea Party ’07 on Dec. 16, raised more than $6 million in online donations during a single 24-hour period, making it the largest one-day political donation event ever. While the actual donating process for the event was completely online, the event itself was in Massachusetts, where supporters gathered to listen to speakers, which included Paul’s son, Rand Paul. The sum collected at the event broke Paul’s own record of single-day donations raised via the Internet. The event intentionally collaborated with the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, and this was used to represent the idea liberty is born through protest and revolution.
“There are simply some issues that are way more important than others. We won’t be able to worry about issues like abortion or gay rights when our rights are stripped at home and we are at war with Iran,” Enfroy said.
With success like that in the grassroots sector alone, it will be hard to deny the “Ron Paul REVOLution”: a moniker that describes the movement of support for Paul as well as the shift in political leanings due to his candidacy. Paul supporters are fighting for the issues they support, and this support is largely popular among the younger voting sector, notably students who once considered themselves as having more liberal affiliations. While the airwaves will continue to be dominated by higher profile candidates, the ability for a candidate to hit fundraising records and captivate an audience is significant. In a race that will be highly contested and competitive, the “Ron Paul REVOLution” should not be discounted.