DES MOINES, Iowa, 1:50 PM – The Ron Paul for President after-party feels like a funeral. Onstage, a folksy singer croons out a tune with an acoustic guitar. A spattering of Ron Paul supporters stand around holding plastic plates of cheese cubes.
It was a rough night yesterday for the Texas Congressman and his libertarian platform. But over Chex Mix and pepper jack, we found a few young believers.
“I’m still pulling for third,” said 20-year-old Gerald Clift. Gerald came from Vacaville, California to work for Paul, and his disappointment reads clearly across his face. “On the doors this week I was feeling number one. I really was.”
For these young Paul supporters, the promise of a hands-off government drew them into a radical campaign that built upon a strong but scattered netroots base of support and transcended regional boundaries. Clift and Tanvir Kapoor are examples of that support. Both are college students from the Bay Area of San Francisco, who were hoping their alternative view of the Congressman’s candidacy would find a larger audience.
“Young voters really have so much to gain from someone like Ron,” Kapoor says, bemoaning Paul’s 10 percent of the vote, even though it eclipsed national front-runner Rudy Giuliani’s 4 percent. “You’d think they’d be able to see through the media coverage of the whole thing.”
And maybe they do – MySpace.com released yesterday the results of their MySpace Presidential Primary, conducted between New Year’s Day and January 2nd. In the contest, users of the site – a social networking site used primarily by high school and college students – nominated none other than Ron Paul in the Republican race. The Congressman took a whopping 37 percent of the MySpace vote, besting Giuliani at 18 percent and Huckabee at 16.
We met another Ron Paul supporter at the after party who looked about the same age as Clift and Kapoor, who said he hadn’t slept in 38 hours because he had been working so hard on the campaign. Such grassroots support is emblematic of the Paul campaign, which has included a blimp maintained and funded entirely by supporters separate from the official Paul campaign.
At the end of the night, Paul was to assert his determination in moving forward to New Hampshire, where the Republican climate may be more amenable to his message of anit-war, anti-income tax conservatism. In Iowa, it was an uphill climb for the Congressman against a strongly evangelical electorate that found the message of former Baptist minister and Governor Mike Huckabee attractive. Now heading into New Hampshire, the Congressman can hope to build on the youth, grassroots support he’s generated over the past few months – and the $19 million war chest won’t hurt.