The sounds of lockin' and loadin' were everywhere in the Idaho Expo building last weekend, as the Lewis Clark Gun Show rolled into its first afternoon. Tables were filled with bullets, guns of wildly varying sizes, and people roaming the aisles looking for just the right firepower.
At the back of the hall, however, three people had their minds on the 2008 presidential election, with a candidate they thought was just the right guy for a gun show: Ron Paul. The libertarian Republican has become a sensation on the Internet, but has grabbed hold of Idaho imaginations in particular. While Mitt Romney, another Republican candidate, has actually been to Idaho—four visits thus far already—it's Paul who might have the most grass-roots supporters.
The three people behind the Ron Paul table at the gun show are all Republicans who voted for George Bush in the past. They were there in part because they had joined a Meetup.com group devoted to Paul's quirky, longshot candidacy.
"We're the second-largest Meetup group in the Treasure Valley, second only to the Pug owners, and we're catching up to them," said Brock Frazier, 36, who spent the entire Saturday at the gun show, shilling for Paul. Such groups are typical of Paul's online army, a group of people united less by a single philosophy than by their devotion to one of Paul's many off-beat policy positions.
Among other ideas, Paul wants to:
End the war in Iraq.
Get rid of the Internal Revenue Service.
Repeal the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.
End the United States' membership in the United Nations.
Eliminate the Federal Reserve and return to the gold standard.
Behind it all is Paul, a genial 72-year-old Texas congressman who rarely shows up on the radar of political scientists as a real candidate, but who has all but dominated the free-for-all nature of online political organizing. Consider that his campaign raised $4 million in a single day of online fundraising. That Internet "money bomb," as supporters call it, jerked political observers around, if only for a moment. It was enough to inspire The New York Times to finally publish a profile of Paul in last Sunday's edition.
Frazier, a Web developer from Boise, said he came across Paul after the 2004 election. That year, Frazier voted for Ralph Nader, because he was so disgusted with Bush, whom he voted for in 2000.
"I don't even like thinking about that election," he said.
This year, he began perusing the list of candidates almost dejectedly, until he found Paul.
"I figured they all sucked, because that's the way it typically works," Frazier said. "But [Paul] was a genuinely honest candidate. I couldn't believe it."
Likewise, Rachel White, 32, is a Republican who voted for Bush before but "in the last four years, I've come to my senses.
"I've never been politically active until this summer," she said. Now, the owner of a dog grooming business in Boise says she finally found a candidate she can believe in.
John Attwood, 44, describes himself as an evangelical Christian who likes Paul's pro-life platform and hopes that Paul's positions might draw people of his religious bent along, despite Paul's opposition to the war in Iraq.
At the gun show, the group handed out yard signs—they lost count but say it was less than 100—and eagerly passed out literature, buttons and bumper stickers. One codger, wearing overalls and an American flag cap, stopped by because he'd not heard of Paul, but liked the idea of eliminating the IRS. Another gun show attendee, now wearing a Ron Paul button, came by to pick up a yard sign on his way out.
Frazier gave $26 to the money bomb initiative. White said she spent her birthday money, $100, on the fundraiser.
"The party has called back to me with a candidate that sticks by his principles," Frazier said.
Before a recent rally in Cheyenne, Wyo., Paul took questions from reporters, including Boulder Weekly staffers Josie Dembiczak and Erica Grossman. Click here to read their interview.