PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — David Gay and three of his friends drove six hours each way from Syracuse, N.Y., to Peterborough to hear Texas Representative Ron Paul speak.
The 30-year-old medical interpreter said he is inspired by Paul’s ‘‘message of liberty that comes from following the Constitution.’’ Gay runs a pro-Paul group in Syracuse and likes that Paul is an anti-war Republican. He believes Paul will win the nomination on the strength of his organization.
‘‘People support the message so heavily,’’ Gay said. ‘‘Once you become a supporter, you don’t turn back.’’
During Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, Gay recalls proudly, ‘‘I was the number one volunteer recruiter in the whole country.’’
As Paul campaigns for the presidency for the third time, the passion of his supporters has become legendary. Voters come to events two hours early to grab a front-row seat. Paul supporters dominate the protest areas outside presidential debates.
Even Republican candidate Mitt Romney commented in a recent debate in Iowa that Paul ignites enthusiasm. ‘‘When I come to a debate like this, the only signs I see are the Ron Paul people out there. In freezing temperatures, they’re always there,’’ Romney said. The passion of Paul’s supporters has propelled him to within striking distance of victory in the Iowa caucuses and into third place nationally and in NewHampshire.
Paul told reporters in New Hampshire recently, ‘‘One thing that’s characteristic about our campaign — when people join our campaign, they rarely leave. They’re very solid, determined supporters.’’
Paul supporters interviewed in New Hampshire had diverse reasons for supporting the 76- year-old Texan. He’s been consistent over 20 years in Congress, he believes in the Constitution, he opposes war and supports civil liberties. Traditionally, Paul’s supporters have been young and idealistic; today, some are older and disenchanted with the political system. They believe in Paul’s libertarian-leaning prescription that includes eliminating five government departments, abolishing the Federal Reserve, and staying out of other countries’ affairs.
“These are people who believe the current system is broken, and who are intrigued by Paul’s argument that you can really reform government by eliminating departments, redefining the relationship between individual liberty and government power,’’ said Dean Spiliotes, political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University.
In November, a handful of Paul supporters stood in the dark outside a Jon Huntsman campaign event in the touristy town of Conway, hoping to catch undecided voters.
This month, three middleaged men stood on a Peterborough street corner in 38-degree temperatures, pointing voters toward a Paul town hall. Among them was Jean Coutu, wearing a Santa hat. Coutu organizes an annual Live Free or Die rally for New Hampshire’s libertarians and has been a Paul supporter for 20 years. ‘‘He’s not status quo. He means what he says,’’ Coutu said. ‘‘Unlike other candidates, he has an unvarnished record of standing by the Constitution.’’
Young people form the backbone of Paul’s support. A recent Gallup poll found 20 percent of US voters aged 18 to 34 supported Paul, but only 4 to 8 percent of older voters. Brandon and Jennifer Seppala, of New Ipswich, N.H., fit that demographic. He’s 27 and works in construction; she’s 26 and a stay-at-home mom. When Brandon goes to diners, he leaves cards saying ‘‘Paul won’t tax waitresses’ tips.’’
‘‘He’s the only one who understands the economic system in the country,’’ Jennifer said. ‘‘There will never be another candidate like Ron Paul. If we don’t get it done this time, we can kiss our civil liberties and prosperity goodbye.’’
There are those like Jeff Clough-Garvin, 36, a libertarianleaning stay-at-home dad from Weare, who has never voted. ‘‘I never found a candidate who shared my ideals about freedom,’’ he said. Now, Clough-Garvin is making phone calls for Paul — and he will vote. ‘‘He talks about wanting to get rid of the Fed, getting rid of the Department of Education. Things would be run by the states. Not being the policeman of the world,’’ Clough- Garvin said. ‘‘He says the things everyone wants to say, but they don’t feel like they can.’’
On one of Paul’s recent campaign trips, Shane Engel, 33, drove from Watertown, Mass., to approach Paul outside a Milford, N.H., café, and get him to sign a copy of a 1966 essay on the gold standard by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. ‘‘I’m not the type to get involved in politics,’’ Engel said. ‘‘With Dr. Paul, his record is so consistent, his beliefs are similar to mine, so different from the other candidates, it inspires action.’’
The Paul campaign encourages its grass-roots supporters. Most of Paul’s fund-raising is done through online ‘‘moneybombs,’’ where supporters pledge small Internet donations during a defined time period. Multiple times, Paul has raised $1 million in 24 hours.
And some find unusual methods to help. Alex Beltramo, a San Francisco game designer, is promoting his new fantasy role-playing game Dungeoneers by pledging $5 to a Ron Paul group every time a player slays a dragon for the first time. So far, he has donated more than $11,000 to the group. Beltramo, 44, admires Paul’s understanding of Austrian economic theory and his limited foreign policy. ‘‘I very much wanted to contribute to him but to contribute more I would have had to draw from the money I’d been saving to promote my game,’’ Beltramo said in a phone interview. ‘‘To be able to combine the two is a treat.’’Shira Schoenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.