MINNEAPOLIS--Ron Paul is no longer a candidate this year to be president of the United States.
But on Tuesday, the Republican congressman from Texas nevertheless attracted up to 10,000 supporters here for a 10-hour event called Rally for the Republic, held at the sports center home of the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team.
It was only about 10 miles from the official Republican convention that's taking place in St. Paul, but a galaxy away in message and spirit. Instead of access being carefully limited to delegates, insiders, and well-heeled party donors, this rally was open to the general public. And instead of featuring President George W. Bush and a defense of his "war on terror," the counterrally featured a lineup of speakers who echoed Paul's message of limited government, civil liberties, lower taxes, and peace.
"There's something exciting in the air," Paul told a cheering audience. "A revolutionary spirit has erupted, and it will not be suppressed. We are involved in a historic event."
During his speech on Tuesday evening, Paul extolled the virtues of individual liberty against an overreaching government (which are also explored in his recent book "The Revolution: A Manifesto"). He formally kicked off his Campaign for Liberty with the motto: "The Revolution Continues." He pointedly did not endorse Sen. John McCain, who is expected to receive the Republican nomination at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday.
One thing Paul didn't say, but could have added, is that neither his candidacy nor this week's rally would have been possible if the Internet had not existed. His support among Republicans only infrequently ventured into the double digits, but the courtly obstetrician developed a towering presence--and, just as important, an impressive fund-raising base--online.
Paul warned that, barring a significant political upheaval, the nation was venturing down a dangerous path. "The future of the Republic is bleak," he said. "As conditions deteriorate, those in charge use the problems they created to solidify their power with more spending, taxes, rules, inflation, and militarism. This must be reversed."
Other speakers included Jesse Ventura, the colorful former governor of Minnesota, (who hinted at plans for a 2012 presidential bid); low-tax activist Grover Norquist; Mises.org director Lew Rockwell; and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, an outspoken opponent of the so-called drug war.
Singers Aimee Allen and Sara Evans provided musical interludes. Allen lives in Los Angeles and previously recorded "The Ron Paul Revolution Theme Song." Evans is one of country music's most popular singers, with at least one platinum album.
For more than a decade, Paul has had a rocky relationship with the Republican Party--and this year, his decision not to endorse anyone for president didn't help. The GOP returned the favor this week by not giving Paul full access to the official convention. The former presidential candidate told reporters on Tuesday morning that he would be allowed only on the convention floor with a chaperone and with limited or no staff.
What McCain is likely worried about is the threat of Paul supporters defecting to the Libertarian Party candidate, Bob Barr, who has generally similar views. Barr is already positioning himself as the pro-privacy choice, and arguing that both major parties are far too indistinguishable on far too many issues.
Whether Barr can manage to be as successful as Ross Perot was in 1992 or Ralph Nader in 2000 remains an open question, not least because his voting record has for many years been more conservative than libertarian. Another one is whether Paul will be successful in turning a presidential campaign into a genuine movement: unsuccessful 1992 Democratic candidate Jerry Brown tried with his now-defunct "We the People" movement (the phrase is now being used by an income tax protester).
Among Paul supporters, a deep distrust of McCain
There were many disaffected Republicans at the Paul rally on Tuesday--including Republican delegates--who felt that John McCain represents big government while his vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin, remains a relatively unknown quantity.
Catherine Bleish, a Republican delegate from Missouri, said she voted for Ron Paul in the Republican primary and is dissatisfied with McCain as the party's candidate.
"I don't think he represents conservative values," Bleish said. "He's kind of a big-government kind of guy. I'm a states' rights kind of girl, so there's a disconnect with him. But I'm not happy with Obama, either, so it's kind of a lose-lose situation for me."
Bleish said she considered herself a liberal until she learned more about Ron Paul's libertarian-inspired platform. She then fully supported the candidate, even organizing marches in Washington, D.C., for his campaign. She said the issues that have drawn her to Paul's campaign are his opposition to the Real ID Act, the Patriot Act, and the Iraq war.
"I feel like (the war is) bankrupting our economy, and that really concerns me," she said.
While still showing her support for Paul, Bleish said she is now a staunch Republican, "through and through."
Bleish--along with the other members of her delegation--is attempting to muster up enthusiasm for the Republican candidate.
"There hasn't been a great amount of support for McCain, but people are trying to rally around the party," Bleish said. "There (are) a lot of Huckabee and Romney supporters that are disappointed, but the Missouri delegation's really been trying to show support for the party itself."
Bleish called McCain's vice presidential pick of Sarah Palin "phenomenal."
"I think she's a real American, a real person--she's a hunter, a gun owner, a mother," she said. "I know there's controversy with one of her daughters right now, but I really respect that she's a real person and doesn't try and cover up her faults. I don't know enough about all of her stances, but I really think she's going to bring a lot of positive support to the Republican Party and to the McCain campaign."
Rene and David Knight, who traveled 12 hours from Michigan for this week's Paul event, were less willing to pass judgment on Palin.
"The policies that need to be talked about are eliminated from the media coverage, and all they're talking about is tabloid junk," Rene said.
When issues are addressed by the media and the campaigns, they're the wrong ones, David said.
"A lot of these issues advocated don't even belong in national politics," he said. "These (politicians) are fascists--not Constitutionalists. They hold up their hand, and they take the vow and swear to uphold the very thing they turn their backs on."
"We support the idea of freedom," David said. "I was involved with the Republican Party back in 1986, and I got a good taste of how things were run."
"And how they're not run properly," Rene added.
Although their candidate is out of the running, the Knights refuse to support McCain, Barack Obama--or even Libertarian candidate Bob Barr. They say they strongly support Paul's movement.
"I think a lot of people are dissatisfied and confused," David said. "I think that, in and of itself, will bring people around to the Ron Paul revolution."
CNET News' Stephanie Condon contributed to this report.