Last weekend my wife and I spent part of our Saturday at the West Alabama Republican Assembly’s straw poll. The result was as lopsided as all the Internet polls that Ron Paul supporters are accused of "spamming." Paul received 81 percent of the votes cast.
Most people were already there by the time we arrived. I could tell things were looking up by a quick glance around the parking lot. It wasn’t just the Ron Paul signs and bumper stickers all over the place; it was the complete lack of any other candidate’s signs or stickers. I saw not a single bumper sticker for any 2008 candidate other than Ron Paul.
Inside, the situation was largely the same. Ron Paul T-shirts, signs, and buttons everywhere. There were a few Romney signs, but that was it. Many of the folks I spoke to shared my sense of delighted disbelief: how had we managed to take over this entire event? And for the vast bulk of them, this was the first time they had so much as considered attending an event like a straw poll. Ron Paul seems to have that effect on people.
In case the media ignored the event, and/or in case there was any way the Ron Paul contingent’s complete domination might have been ignored or downplayed, I snapped some photos. Unfortunately, my brand new camera, whose instructions I hadn’t read, was on an inappropriate setting that yielded only grainy pictures. But YouTube once again comes to the rescue: it looks like a Ron Paul rally, doesn’t it? (The front rows are empty because by that point we were all milling around in the back waiting for the results.)
We had lunch with David Beito of the University of Alabama and the Liberty and Power blog. Afterward, we had a chance to meet all kinds of great folks, including (naturally) countless LewRockwell.com readers. (We’re all in this video; when the cameraman comes around to ask if we’re for Ron Paul, I give the smart-alecky answer, “We’re still on the fence.”)
Representatives from several campaigns spoke or gave presentations on behalf of their candidates. Duncan Hunter even phoned in and spoke to the crowd before we arrived. (He got ten votes.) But far and away the most powerful speaker — and anyone, whatever his preferred candidate, would have conceded this — was the gentleman who spoke for Ron Paul, a local Baptist minister named John Killian. Killian has an undeniable credibility with a Republican audience, having been involved in the party since the 1970s. And he sure knows how to rally a crowd: here is his speech (part 1 and part 2).
When it came time to announce the results, the only real question was Paul’s margin of victory. No one glancing around the room could have been in doubt about the outcome, and even the moderator who announced the results admitted that we all knew who had won. The candidates were named in alphabetical order — except Paul, whose name and vote total were given at the very end, since his win was a foregone conclusion.
This is what we heard:
Brownback – 2 (0.75%)
Giuliani – 7 (3%)
Huckabee – 6 (2%)
Hunter – 10 (4%)
McCain – 2 (0.75%)
Romney – 14 (5%)
Tancredo – 0 (0%)
Fred Thompson – 9 (3%)
Paul – 216 (81%)
Within seconds, the great Chris Brunner had posted the results to the LewRockwell.com blog (another reason to read it regularly!).
Steve Gordon‘s recollections of the straw poll are much better and more thorough than anything I could have written; I particularly enjoyed his description of all the different kinds of people you meet at a Ron Paul event — and let’s face it, with 81 percent of the vote, the Ron Paul folks made this their event.
I’m recording my own thoughts, on the other hand, for the sake of analyzing what these results mean. Sure, in the grand scheme of things this straw poll was a minor event, but it was no less thrilling for all that. Mark Thornton said this was the first time he could remember actually being on the winning side at a political gathering.
And there is something to be learned even from these smaller events.
Most importantly, we find once again that among the 2008 candidates Ron Paul has a unique ability to inspire people. Everyone was invited to this straw poll. Ron Paul’s supporters did not behave unethically or exploit some loophole in order to register such an impressive vote total. They simply showed up. To my knowledge, the Ron Paul campaign did not issue invitations to supporters to attend the poll, much less provide funding or logistical support. Instead, Ron Paul Meetup groups and other forums got the word out.
Why couldn’t other candidates’ supporters have done the same? Why are the Paul people so enthusiastic and they so apathetic?
The same day, Ron Paul received 208 out of 286 votes cast at a straw poll in New Hampshire. Paul was actually present at that event — but so were Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo. Huckabee got 20 votes. Tancredo got eight.
So here’s an event at which you can actually meet your favored candidate, and yet Huckabee partisans can scrounge up only 20 people? Tancredo’s campaign motivated a grand total of eight to come see him?
Once and for all, then: Paul supporters are not spamming online polls, if it were even possible to do so without being detected. You can’t spam a straw poll, and in Alabama and New Hampshire we have just seen margins of victory similar to those that provoke allegations of spamming when they occur online.
When you devise events that ask people to make the effort to identify themselves, as with online polls or local straw polls, as opposed to telephone polls that consist of calling people (most of whom have never heard of Ron Paul) in their homes, Ron Paul does extremely well. That is to say, people who have heard of him disproportionately want to go out of their way to help him and make their support known.
And intensity of support does matter. On primary day, you can bet your bottom dollar that Paul’s supporters will be out there voting, whatever the weather. Given the very low percentage of voters who bother to vote in the primaries, this is no small advantage.
Name recognition is now the key. In countless cases, people who all of a sudden find out about Ron Paul turn into devoted partisans, employing their various talents in creative ways on his behalf.
Spreading the word is therefore the order of the day. I compiled a few of the favorite introductory Ron Paul YouTubes on the basis of suggestions I received from readers of this site. (I also like this one, which I find extremely inspiring.)
A major "right-wing" radio talk show host recently urged people to call Ron Paul’s headquarters to tell his staff their candidate couldn’t win. Quite apart from how stupid and juvenile that is, it also shows that Paul and his message are getting under the bad guys’ skin. When they condemn him or (in this case) urge him to drop out, what they are really saying is that they want a business-as-usual campaign in which Americans are spoken to in slogans and all the major candidates stick to the script when it comes to war and empire.
"Ron Paul is a distraction from the field of hacks the party has given us to choose from. We’re more or less satisfied with the status quo, and demand a candidate we can be sure won’t change a thing."
That, in effect, is what these dopes are saying.
Doing good and infuriating establishment and "right-wing" (as if there were a difference anymore) hacks at the same time — this is one of the distinct pleasures of working for and spreading the word about Ron Paul.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [view his website; send him mail] is senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the author, most recently, of 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask. His other books include How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (get a free chapter here), The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy (first-place winner in the 2006 Templeton Enterprise Awards), and the New York Times bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.