Drawing wild applause and cheers, Republican presidential nominee hopeful Ron Paul stumped at the University of Southern Maine Saturday, in the run up to Maine’s upcoming Republican Caucus.
The event was coordinated on the USM side by Student Body President Chris Camire. Camire said he got in touch Monday morning with with Maine State Representative Aaron Libby, who was looking for a liaison at the university to help coordinate the rally.
“This is incredibly exciting,” Camire said. “It’s extremely educational to be able to see someone who has sat in the United States Congress. Not a lot of people get this opportunity.”
Speaking for about 40 minutes, the 76 year-old congressman from Texas covered the major topics of his platform, advocating a return to the gold standard, a strictly literal view of the constitution, and an end to foreign intervention, the PATRIOT ACT and government regulation of the free market.
Paul reserved some of his strongest criticisms for the current financial system in the United States.
“One of the worst parts of the monetary system is it allows government to grow,” he said. “If government grows, your liberties go down. There is no doubt about that.”
He also drew loud applause for his stated opposition to the drug war. “The war on drugs is a war on American citizens,” he said. “I think we should reassess that whole thing.”
Hastings Formal Lounge was filled to capacity for the speech, with some gathering in an overflow room in Bailey Hall to watch the speech on CCTV.
Many of those in attendance were enthusiastic Paul supporters, like Alexandra Mediate, 20 of South Portland. Mediate, who studied two years at the University of Southern Maine, said she was planning on voting for him in the upcoming Maine Republican Caucus. “I love Ron Paul, he’s my favorite candidate,” she said. “He gives me faith in politics, a little.”
Junior political science major Dylan LaJoie said that while he doesn’t always agree with Paul’s beliefs, he respects the candidate for consistency. “For as long as he’s been running for office now, his opinions have been staying the same for the most part,” he said.
Paul’s speech appeared to be more focused on ideas than on the presidential campaign and was notably absent of mentions of his fellow presidential hopefuls or even the campaign. “I’m more excited about changing the direction of this country,” he said to reporters following the speech.
Paul’s campaign has met mixed results in the first three Republican primaries and caucuses. He came in third in Iowa with 21.43 percent of the vote and second New Hampshire with 22.9 percent, but most recently took a hit in South Carolina, where he finished in fourth place with just 13 percent of the vote. Now Paul has essentially skipped the race in Florida — according to Politico he has not spent a single dollar advertising there, nor organized any events.
Polling last in Florida, where the other presidential hopefuls are gearing up for that state’s primary Tuesday, Paul is the first candidate to visit Maine in 2012. Paul was on the ballot here in the 2008 Republican caucus along with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and the eventual nominee John McCain, receiving 18 percent of the vote.
The congressman has become known for his strong libertarian streak, which at times puts him at odds with his opponents and much of the Republican support base. But it’s exactly these unorthodox political positions, like his support for marijuana decriminalization and opposition to most foreign military intervention, which make him popular with younger voters. A December Gallup poll showed Paul’s strongest base of support is among voters in the 18-34 age range. And his staunch support for civil liberties has appeal across the political spectrum, drawing in some otherwise left-leaning voters.
Paul also holds many positions more often associated with current American conservatism. He opposes abortion and supports overturning Roe v. Wade — from a conviction that states ought to have the ability to decide abortion legislation. Paul has also spoken against federal student loans, arguing that education is an individual, not governmental responsibility.
With his message of small-government conservatism, anti-war foreign policy and civil liberties advocacy, Paul commands an energetic and devoted following who rock Ron Paul merchandise and maintain active fan pages dedicated to his support. But commentators from organizations including the Washington Post and ABC have noted that Paul may have a “support ceiling,” above which his approval numbers have yet to rise.