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Paul supporters: Tampa to be a starting point for future liberty movements

By Dan Merica, CNN
updated 3:30 PM EDT, Thu August 23, 2012
Ron Paul has created a devoted, some say obsessed, group of followers. But where do they go after Paul leaves politics?
Ron Paul has created a devoted, some say obsessed, group of followers. But where do they go after Paul leaves politics?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ron Paul's legacy: "rebirth of the ideals of liberty"
  • Paul supporters are using crowdsourcing sites to raise money to attend RNC
  • Supporter: the question remains, what will the movement look like in a 'post-Ron Paul world?'
  • Ron Paul supporters distrust his son, Rand, Mitt Romney and the GOP

Washington (CNN) -- With Ron Paul having struck a deal over the seating of his delegates at the Republican convention and the likelihood of a dramatic floor challenge fading, his supporters are now thinking beyond the national political gathering next week in Tampa.

"I think Ron Paul should have fought to the end of the nomination," Danny Panzella, a Paul grassroots organizer said. "I think the campaign should have been run more on principle than typical politics. That is kind of what Ron Paul symbolizes."

The 77-year-old Texas congressman's rallying cry of liberty and self determination grew into a fervent cause that inspired legions frustrated with politics as usual and pressured the more established Republican field during the 2012 primaries. Those who stood with Paul and embraced his agenda believe the future will define his movement.

Jordan Page, an ardent Paul backer who has traveled the country with the campaign as a musical act, exemplifies that notion.

"I am not happy about any of this," Page said about a compromise with presumptive nominee Mitt Romney's campaign that will seat some of Paul's 154 delegates at the convention in exchange for integrating key Paul policy issues into the Republican platform.

"For me, though, this is about more than a presidential campaign. It is about the rebirth of the ideals of liberty that of founding fathers gave to us. Ron Paul has awakened that in a whole generation and that to me is what is important," Page said. "That is his legacy."

Ron Paul delegates set to strike deal with RNC

While next week's focus will be on nominating Romney as the new Republican standard-bearer, Paul supporters see the event as an opportunity to discuss where the grassroots movement is headed after the longtime congressman retires next year.

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'There are lots of young Ron Paul's out there'

Mike Salvi has organized rallies for Paul in the Philadelphia area and plans a motorcycle caravan for the trip to Tampa. Salvi is not alone. Paul supporters nationwide will travel the highways to Florida in what many are calling "Ronvoys".

Despite the delegate deal that has reduced any chance of floor drama at the convention, Salvi is excited about being surrounded by like-minded individuals.

"Now that Ron is out of the picture and his presidential bid is over, the idea now is that anyone who is going to Tampa has been a big figure in this liberty movement," Salvi said. "With all of us in the same city for a week together, we are going to figure out what is next, where we go from here. That is the biggest reason I am going."

While the number of Paul supporters in Tampa will pale in comparison to those there to elevate Romney, the Paul faction plans to make its presence known.

Ron Paul campaign files second appeal for Louisiana delegates

Pro-Paul websites like the Daily Paul have publicized MoneyBombs, a typical online fundraising tool used by the Paul campaign, aimed at helping supporters get to Florida. Long lists of people from coast to coast asked for help, and some have raised a few thousand dollars and are making the trip to the convention.

Many are drawn to the related Paul events, even though the congressman won't be speaking at Republican Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The P.A.U.L Festival, an event inspired by the candidate and billed as the place for "people awakening and uniting for liberty" will be held on Saturday. The campaign has billed Paul's Sunday night appearance at the Sun Dome as the main draw and a tone setter for his supporters.

Page, the singer/songwriter who will be playing at both events, said Paul's leadership is just the beginning.

"The future is really more important in Tampa and what this movement is going to look like in a post-Ron Paul world," Page said. "There are lots of young Ron Paul's out there -- both male and female. ... We are his legacy and the fervor that we fight these battles is is his legacy."

In a post-Paul era, where do the diehards go?

A post-Paul world spells confusion, loss and disappointment for diehard Paul supporters.

"I think there has been a cult of personality around Ron Paul," said Danny Panzella, a New York grassroots organizer for Paul 2012. "That comes from putting their hope in a man, rather than the philosophy that he espoused."

Paul has long tried to tamp down the aura, telling CNN in April that he feels "overpraised" at times. "It makes me uncomfortable, but obviously it pleases me," Paul said.

Panzella, who will emcee of the P.A.U.L Fest in Tampa, says he is still very much on the fence in 2012.

But with Paul's mantle and message up for grabs, there is no shortage of suitors for that role.

Ron Paul backers' plan: Transform the GOP

Among them, is former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party's candidate this year. Though Johnson diverges from Paul on a number of issues -- a fact most Paul diehards will regularly discuss -- he is making an effort to court those looking for a place to go.

"We make no bones about wanting their support," said Joe Hunter, the Johnson campaign's spokesman. "Gary believes there is a substantial portion of the electorate that Ron Paul has tapped into and someone has to carry that message forth and that really is why Gov. Johnson is running."

Panzella said he is not sure if he will vote for Johnson.

No love for GOP, Romney or Rand

A quick scan of pro-Paul websites makes it clear -- many Ron Paul supporters do not support Romney and they are not shy about it.

"The real Ron Paul supporters are not going to vote for Romney. This movement, this entire liberty movement is not going to support Romney," Page said. "Romney and his history, his policies, his beliefs, fly in the face of the principles of liberty."

For Paul's true believers, a study in American optimism

That displeasure with Romney, however, extends to many of the people who have endorsed and supported the former Massachusetts governor -- even Ron Paul's son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

"He endorsed Romney and that was really tough for me," said Salvi. "How you could speak so strongly against big government and then endorse a big government candidate."

Though Rand Paul, who will be speaking at the convention, echoes much of what his father says and campaigned with him in 2012, many Ron Paul supporters remain skeptical of his son.

The younger Paul, however, has made a play to ensure that his father's supporters remain within the Republican Party. At a small gathering with bloggers and reporters last month, Paul made his case.

"I think there will be a long lasting influence," Rand Paul said. "I think he has encouraged a lot of people to participate, and what I keep telling them is don't give up on the party because the Democratic Party has a lot of different interests..."

Many Ron Paul supporters, though, remain unconvinced.

"The reason why Ron Paul got such a following was because he was pillar with his principles," Salvi said. "I don't see that in Rand."

This apprehension, with the whole system, from Rand to Romney, has led to major questions about who Paul supporters will support in November.

Some are leaning to Johnson, others to Obama. Few love Romney and some plan to write in Ron Paul's name. There is widespread disagreement among Paul supporters.

In a group that values free thought and self determination, they don't see that as a bad thing.

Looking at his options, Salvi joked, "I might just write my grandma in."

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