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Foot soldiers of the Ron Paul revolution

Backers of many stripes herald the Republican candidate as their hero.

December 01, 2007|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

The late-fall night fairly crackled with energy -- from a persistent Santa Ana wind, the high-tension power lines overhead and, especially, from the crowd packed inside the living room of a ranch house at the west end of the San Gabriel Valley.

Eighty people sat elbow to elbow on tight rows of folding chairs, chattering with enthusiasm and ideas. They would produce wall calendars and a concert. They would reenact the Boston Tea Party on the Santa Monica Pier. They would write to every independent voter in Iowa.

The foot soldiers of the Ron Paul Revolution, Pasadena Division, were only getting started.

Founded nine months ago by one of the first followers of the Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate, the Pasadena "meetup" spawned more than 1,200 similar groups that claim nearly 77,000 members nationwide.

These fervent supporters and their freewheeling tactics have helped turn Paul into, first, an Internet sensation and, now, this political season's most unlikely phenomenon.

A 45-year-old artist and adventurer is bicycling from Santa Monica to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington to raise awareness about Paul. A Nevada brothel owner recently promised to take up a collection from her customers. One Colorado backer quickly raised more than $350,000 online this week, with a plan to launch a Ron Paul blimp.

"It's bigger than one. It's bigger than a group," Juliet Annerino, a Silver Lake fitness trainer and singer, said at the recent gathering of the Pasadena group. "We are making history right now. Right here."

Paulites tend to be tech-savvy, tired of traditional politics and suspicious of their government and the mainstream media.

But after that, they defy categories. A quick survey of the Pasadena group found Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Constitution Party followers uniting behind some or all of the Paul libertarian agenda -- ending the war in Iraq, abolishing gun control laws, legalizing marijuana and dismantling big hunks of the U.S. government, especially the IRS and Federal Reserve system.

"I think you could build a case that Ron Paul is part of a tradition of those unhappy with the iron grip of the status quo, from Ross Perot to Ralph Nader right back to Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party," said Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. "What they all have in common is a freedom from the normal tendencies toward caution and equivocation."

National polls and most political analysts still make Paul a long shot, though he recently climbed into fourth place (with 8%) in three surveys in the early primary state of New Hampshire.

His biggest splash before that came Nov. 5, when an online effort (in web-speak, a "money bomb") brought in $4.2 million, one of the largest single-day hauls in the history of political fundraising.

For months, the one-time obstetrician-gynecologist and Air Force flight surgeon had been a growing phenomenon on the Internet; his YouTube videos and website ( www.ronpaul2008.com) had become more popular than any other presidential candidate's, Republican or Democratic.

Those were heady achievements for a campaign that did not exist until January, when a handful of Paul enthusiasts -- two of whom met while promoting a documentary on the government's failure to search for POWs allegedly still held in Southeast Asia -- came together in Hollywood. Over two days in a suite at a Comfort Inn, the organizers mapped out the rudiments of Paul's website.

"Nothing was going fast enough for people," said Bill Dumas, who participated in the early strategy sessions. "They were really excited and wanted more ways to participate."

In particular, the Paulites wanted to organize and meet with each other. Believing it would take too long to create an organization, Dumas signed on with the social networking site Meetup.com.

He formed the Pasadena group for Ron Paul 2008 in March and put a link on Paul's website to help others start meetup groups. "It was quickly just bombarded," said Dumas, 51. "People began starting their own meetups all over the country."

Paul said in a recent television appearance that even he was surprised by the fervent response. "We are tapping into this sense of frustration," he said.

At the recent Pasadena meeting -- held at the La Canada Flintridge home of Bill Johnson, an international corporate lawyer -- two young men described their plan to send hand-written letters to Iowa's 700,000 independent voters, urging them to register Republican and turn out for Paul at the Jan. 3 caucuses.

Annerino talked about two fundraisers she had on the drawing board -- a "Rock for Ron Paul" concert Jan. 17 in Hollywood and a "Hotties for Ron Paul" 2008 wall calendar.

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