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Special Feature: Ron Paul Supporters Get Ready for Pre-Convention Festivities

August 19, 2012 - 6:00pm

As Republican speakers and delegates gear up for their national convention in Tampa, Aug. 27-30, the partys libertarian faction is getting ready to put its own unique stamp on the weeks proceedings: Ron Paul Festival 2012.

The three-day festival honoring the 12-term Texas congressman, at the Florida State Fairgrounds, Aug. 24-26, is taking place just before the Republican National Convention (RNC) kicks off. But an organizer for the event cautions that participants are not necessarily ready to rubber-stamp the GOP presidential ticket.

Those people present who are rather new to the liberty message might be supporting the GOP, predicted Tracy Diaz, a member of the festival's planning committee, in an interview with Sunshine State News. But I think the staunch supporters of the movement will be voting either Libertarian or not at all in the election. I dont think a single one of them will be supporting the Romney ticket.

Paul, who campaigned on a platform of laissez faire free-market economics, non-intervention in foreign conflicts, free trade, civil liberties, and decentralized government according to his traditionalist interpretation of the Constitution, is expected to command between 150 and 200 delegates at the RNC, out of a total of about 2,000. His campaign claims to possibly have as many as 300 more delegate supporters, though they will be bound by state party rules to cast their votes for other candidates.

Though he is virtually certain to lose the nomination, Pauls supporters are undaunted.

Paul Festival is a celebration of all that Dr. Paul has accomplished during his tenure for the libertarian movement, and a celebration of the grassroots the people, the activists who dedicate all their time and efforts to further this cause, exclaims Diaz. It is an event to unite everybody, so that everyone is together and on a positive note going forward, regardless of what happens at the convention and in November.

The three-day festival is being sponsored, in part, by the Libertarian Party, considered by many to be the nations largest and fastest-growing third party. The party considers itself as the political standard-bearer of government minimalism.

Libertarians believe the answer to America's political problems is the same commitment to freedom that earned America its greatness: a free-market economy and the abundance and prosperity it brings; a dedication to civil liberties and personal freedom; and a foreign policy of non-intervention, peace, and free trade as prescribed by America's founders, reads a statement on its website.

The Libertarians are the only third party whose presidential candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, is appearing on the ballot in all 50 states for the general election. Johnson had campaigned for the Republican nomination, but failed to garner statistically significant support in primary polling. He pulled out of that race in December 2011 before receiving the Libertarian nod in May of the following year.

[The Libertarian Party] contacted us and expressed interest in sponsoring the event, Diaz explained. We already had Governor Johnson speaking for us before the Libertarians contacted us for a sponsorship opportunity. I would assume they want people to understand what their platform is, and they would like to get the message out, especially to let Ron Paul supporters know what the Libertarian Party is all about. We had no hesitation because the Libertarian Party has the same liberty message as we do.

This years Paul Fest, as supporters popularly refer to it, features a whos-who of libertarian celebrities, including Johnson, economist and historian Tom Woods, TV/radio personality Peter Schiff, economist Walter Block, a handful of libertarian-minded political candidates, and others. They will be joined by live entertainment provided by about two dozen music bands and performers.

Diaz said she expects about 10,000 Paul supporters to participate in the festival. And while she doesnt expect many of them to be supporting Mitt Romney and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan come November, she does note that the Republican Party will be represented by a vendor at the fairgrounds.

I wouldnt say the festival is anti-Republican; I would say its more anti-establishment. I think the event itself shows how strong the liberty movement is, and how the GOP just isnt willing to exactly embrace what it is we espouse, insisted Diaz. Its an event for liberty, I wouldnt call it anti anything.

Art Wood, chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party (HCRP), was more optimistic. We have excellent relationships with several of the independent conservative activist organizations that operate in the county, including Tea Partiers and Ron Paul supporters, he told Sunshine State News. I think we all have the same basic goal: to put people in office who will enact our conservative principles. We embrace Pauls supporters; in fact, many of them have moved up into leadership positions since the primary races concluded.

Further illustrating the complex relationships that exist between Paul supporters and party officialdom, and within the libertarian movement itself, is the fact that the last leg of Paul Fest coincides with an official rally backed by the Paul campaign, at which Paul will offer some last words of encouragement to his delegates and other supporters. That event is being held Sunday at the USF Sun Dome, some eight miles away.

Weve been dealing with the Paul campaign from the beginning. Were in contact with them at least once a week, if not more often. Weve been trying to work in tandem with them, says Diaz. Were a little bit disappointed because of the sometimes low-level of support from the campaign, but we will be busing people from the festival to the Sun Dome, and will also be broadcasting Dr. Pauls speech for festival-goers who are unable to attend it in person.

James Davis, communications director for the RNC, told Sunshine State News that Pauls official delegate rally was orchestrated through our office. We have about 70 official venues, the USF Sun Dome is one of them, and the Paul campaign secured it through our process. We were happy to work with them.

Far from seeing the Paul festivities as somehow indicating discontent with the GOP, Davis said the establishment of various independent events surrounding the official convention goes to show just how much excitement there is around the Republican Party as we get ready to officially nominate Mitt Romney.

Paul organizers, meanwhile, seem less focused on partisan victories. Moving forward, I believe we need to focus on the local level, influencing liberty-minded people to run for local office and voters to support them, Diaz said. Whether thats on a third-party or a Republican ticket, what matters is that we get our liberty ideals to the forefront, starting from below. I think that would be one of our goals moving forward, in terms of gaining our political arena back from where it has gone.

Ron Paul himself, incidentally, is yet to endorse any candidate.

Reach Eric Giunta at or at (850) 727-0859.

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