A group of Ron Paul supporters passed out pamphlets at Saturday’s rally for the Republican presidential candidate. They handed one to an older woman hurrying across the street. “Who is he?” she asked.
“He’s running for president,” said one of the supporters.
“I’ve never heard of him. I’m voting for the lady,” the woman replied.
Paul, a lesser-known candidate, has been enjoying new media attention thanks to grassroots fundraising and Internet celebrity. He spoke to between 3,000 and 5,000 supporters at the rally, which was held at Independence Mall last Saturday afternoon.
The event was coordinated by the Greater Philadelphia Ron Paul Presidential Campaign, which is not affiliated with the official Ron Paul presidential campaign. Rocco Moffa, an assistant organizer with GPRPPC, said the organization hoped to increase the media coverage of Paul’s campaign.
“We’re looking for national exposure. The number of people who came out to rally this early in the year says something,” Moffa said. Moffa has also campaigned for Paul on Temple’s campus many times this year.
Mike Haldeman, a member of GPRPPC, said that hearing Paul speak was the most important part of the rally.
“It’s easy to go out and talk about the issues,” Haldeman said. “I tell people that I don’t do him justice – it’s better to just hear him speak.”
The event began at 1 p.m. with a short concert of patriotic songs from country music artist and veteran Rockie Lynne. To the south of the stage was a display of white markers identifying Philadelphia residents who died in foreign wars. This display is a Veterans Day tradition and was unconnected to the rally, but rally organizers said that it added to the spirit of the event.
The rally also focused on Veterans Day, with organizers asking veterans to sit directly in front of the stage. An advocate for locating abandoned prisoners of war also spoke.
After the short concert, Paul’s campaign manager Lou Moore spoke briefly about the goals of the campaign before introducing a minister to offer a prayer.
“We have one objective and one objective only,” Moore said. “To take back our country and to take back our Constitution.”
Lynne then performed again, ending with “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Debbi Hopper, the assistant campaign manager for Paul, gave a tearful plea to encourage delegates that support Paul to the Republican National Convention, which will be held in Saint Paul, Minn., from Sept. 1 to Sept. 4, 2008.
New Jersey State Rep. Michael Doherty also spoke and introduced Paul.
Paul began his speech just before 2 p.m. and ended around 2:45 p.m. He covered many of the issues central to his campaign, focusing on withdrawing troops from Iraq and around the world and strengthening national economic policy. He began by addressing rumors in the national media, which suggest that his support in the debates and public polls comes from “spammers” who inflate his numbers with repeated votes.
“It can’t be just a few people, because they send in a lot of money,” Paul said.
“This crowd today is going to make a few believers.”
Much of his speech focused on the war in Iraq and his call for the immediate removal of troops.
“There should be no war whatsoever without a declaration from the United States Congress,” Paul said. He also noted that Iraq was created after the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War I. “It’s time we got out of the way and let the Iraqis decide what kind of government they want.”
Paul also said that he feared the current attack on civil liberties, citing the war on drugs, terror, poverty and illiteracy. “There is never a reason that we should have to sacrifice liberty for safety,” he said.
In addressing the recent talks about a North American Union, Paul said he opposed it and other worldwide organizations that threaten the national sovereignty of the U.S.
“We don’t need a North American Union. We don’t need a NAFTA highway. We don’t need a North American currency called the ‘Amero.’”
Late in his speech, Paul talked about the success his campaign has had with younger voters and called the Internet a “very strong political equalizer.”
Several members of the Temple Libertarians attended the rally as a registered group. Kaushik Shankar, the vice president of the group, said he expected Paul to speak about foreign policy and said that he was impressed by the rally.
“I think that it’s done pretty well considering that it’s all grassroots,” Shankar said.
Jeff Heinbach, a senior film and English double major, also attended the rally and said that he was surprised by the large turnout and hoped to hear Paul affirm many of his campaign points.
“I hope he talks about reinstituting basic rights and the Bill of Rights, which is the crux of his campaign,” Heinbach said.
Paul himself seemed pleased with the outcome of the rally.
“If I had to guess,” he said, “it’s the biggest rally that we’ve ever had.”
Alex Irwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.