FLOWERY BRANCH — What gets supporters of a dark horse presidential candidate to stand on curbs of a busy street and wave campaign signs in 35-degree weather?
About a dozen Ron Paul supporters from Hall County gathered Saturday morning near the Publix shopping center on Spout Springs Road to wave signs, hand out brochures and try to build some name recognition for the GOP candidate who has run fourth or fifth in most primary balloting so far.
"We’re pretty dedicated," said Travis Jones, a 30-year-old network administrator from Buford. "He’s our candidate and we’re trying to get the word out, because unfortunately, a lot of people still don’t know the name Ron Paul."
While Paul gets little air time in debates and polls between 4 and 6 percent among Republican voters nationally, the U.S. congressman from Texas is bolstered by a campaign that relies heavily on youth and technology.
Saturday’s gathering was put together through the Internet site Meetup.com, which counts 70 Ron Paul supporters in Hall County and more than 100,000 nationwide, Jones said. The Internet has also been instrumental in raising cash for Paul’s campaign, which set a record with a one-day haul of $6 million last month.
"It’s really a phenomenon," Jones said. "I don’t think any other candidate has seen this kind of grass-roots activism before in any other campaign. The Internet has been an incredible tool for organizing the grass roots."
Jones and fellow Paul supporter Brandon Givens, 29, are attracted to the candidate’s proposals for fiscal policy (which includes abolishing the federal reserve board), foreign policy (immediate withdrawal from Iraq) and traditionally Libertarian positions on individual freedoms. Like many of Paul’s core of supporters, they are young, well-educated and disenchanted with the politics of the more mainstream presidential candidates.
"He’s the only one who thinks outside the box as far as these things are concerned," said Givens, Hall County publisher for The Coffee News. "People say, ‘Well, he can’t win because he’s not a politician.’ That really speaks volumes about our society right now. I’m going to continue to fight the good fight and support him."
Douglas Young, a professor of political science at Gainesville State College, said Paul’s appeal among young people in part stems from his mix of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism, and partly from his rebel status among the candidates.
"He is clearly the biggest rebel in the race," Young said. "If he won, there would be major change. And I think that really appeals to young people."
Young said he’s not sure there are many supporters who think Paul could actually become president, "but I think they’re hoping that if he wins a significant minority of the vote, that whoever becomes the nominee would have to be a little more conservative in what they do. A lot of people may be voting for Paul to send a message."
Douglas Butler, 63, was the oldest of the supporters waving signs on Saturday. Butler said he believes Paul "has made a bigger impact than even he thought he would."
"It’s very encouraging that a lot of young people are picking up the message that the government is not doing them any good," said Butler, who has children ages 26, 29 and 18 who are Paul supporters. "I think he’s planted the seeds of freedom and liberty and individual responsibility. Even if he doesn’t win, you have planted the seeds for that."
Givens said after he votes for Paul in the Feb. 5 primary, "I’m going to sleep better that night than I ever have. Because I’m going to know I’ve voted for someone who could have made a difference, or at least tried, and who really did have people’s best interest in mind."
Jones, Saturday’s event organizer, isn’t ready to concede that Paul is a longshot for the Republican nomination. Jones points to Paul’s second-place finishes in the Nevada and Louisiana Republican caucuses, and a recent Rasmussen Reports poll that puts the candidate in fourth place among likely Georgia Republican primary voters, with 12 percent — ahead of Rudy Giuliani and four percentage points behind Mitt Romney. Mike Huckabee is the current front-runner in Georgia, with 34 percent, according to the poll.
Jones said local Ron Paul campaigners have gotten a good reception in their door-to-door visits.
"When you start talking about the message of fiscal conservatism, ending the war and noninterventionist foreign policy, people are really receptive to it, and they agree with a lot of things he has to say," Jones said.