When Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul walked into the banquet hall at Bobby’s Bar-B-Q in Warrenville, supporters leaped to their feet and cheered, much like people did when they met Newt Gingrich at the restaurant two days before.
There were also plenty of cameras and reporters, political slogans and buttons, and a patriotic music soundtrack to boot.
Tom Davis, however, could see a difference in Friday’s crowd.
“Look at all these young people,” said Davis, a South Carolina state senator from Beaufort. “This is the future of our party.”
The average age in the room did seem to skew quite a bit younger than the crowd that came out for Gingrich, although no one was checking IDs at the door.
Davis, one of four state senators who have recently endorsed Paul, said the Texas congressman’s ideas about liberty resonated with a younger crowd and in general “appealed to basic passions of Americans.” He said Paul supporters were unconcerned about where he stood in opinion polls.
“If you are a Ron Paul supporter, you don’t look at polls or care about the political trade winds,” he said, “They believe the message.”
Paul’s message emphasized responsibility, both personal and public, and he began by focusing on the United States’ mounting debt and the lack of urgency he saw among those with the power to remedy the problem.
“They are in total denial in Washington,” Paul said. “Quite frankly, the country is now bankrupt, and we have to deal with it. We can’t delay any longer.”
Paul said the government can no longer pay lip service to its financial problems. Real and substantial spending cuts must begin. He would cut $1 trillion from the budget his first year in office as president, beginning with ending foreign aid and “illegal and wasteful” foreign wars, he said.
He also said the country must return to following basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution.
“We simply should follow the Constitution,” Paul said. “Our government was designed to protect liberty, not to run the economy and the world.”
Paul said freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution give a wide berth for all people to live their lives without government intrusion.
“I am convinced freedom brings people together. It does not divide us,” he said. “Even though people may use their freedom in different ways, it doesn’t mean you have to endorse what they do.”
The message was music to Charles D. Rodgers Jr., who drove from Thomson to see Paul.
“This is better than Christmas,” Rodgers said. “Who is not for peace, liberty, freedom and sound money?”
Rodgers said he thought Paul was a straight-shooter. He derided the political rhetoric of the other Republican candidates, such as Gingrich, who also emphasized fiscal responsibility and personal liberty.
“I can tell you that I am Mary Poppins, but that doesn’t make it so,” Rodgers said. “This man has 30 years of proof of what he believes in.”
Seth Miller said he was impressed by Paul’s sincerity and conviction. The 29-year-old Aiken County resident said he had become disenchanted with politicians who make promises on the campaign trail and don’t follow through after they are elected.
“I worked for the Democratic Party in 2008 and 2010,” he said. “It’s been very disheartening to see what has happened.”
Miller said he supports Paul even though he doesn’t agree with all of his platform. He hopes Paul will do well in today’s South Carolina primary, but he knows the front-runners will likely further cement their leads.
“Either way, it would be a start,” Miller said. “If he has a strong showing it will send a message that the people are tired of the same-old, same-old.”