COLUMBIA — Presidential candidates, for all their “sharp contrasts” from one another, are quite similar.
They are typically male, white, and married with children. They often come from a background of business or law. They love America (and make sure you know it). And they, above all else, believe they are the ones that can save America.
These are their norms, their conventions.
But Dr. Ron Paul bucks the conventional.
Most candidates thank their wives and children in their stump speeches and initial statements at debates. They, for lack of a better term, use their families as tools in the political game. Their families are evidence of supporting family values. Their families make calculating politicians seem a little more warm and human. (Karen Santorum said that when husband Rick is at home, he’s a family man “taking the garbage out or working in the yard.”)
Paul rarely mentions his family. After talking with voters in South Carolina, when they heard Paul say, “I’m very proud that my wife of 54 years is with me tonight” at the CNN debate on Thursday evening, it was the first time they heard him talk about his wife. (Her name is Carol, by the way.) Despite knowing he has five children, including son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), they were unsure of his marital status.
But Paul’s debate reference was probably not a ploy to recapture family-centric voters. That, of course, would be too conventional. Instead, it was more likely a jab at Newt Gingrich and the recent news of him asking second wife, Marianne, for an “open marriage.”
Paul’s rhetoric also doesn’t follow conventions. Most candidates say “America” so many times that you’d think it was a product placement in a blockbuster movie. Paul, on the other hand, is more likely to harp on the values of the gold standard. (One Paul supporter at the Paul primary party on Saturday night said he was originally just a Political Science major at the University of Akron, Ohio, but decided to double major in economics to first, increase his job prospects, and second, so he could better understand Paul’s economic plans.)
And while other candidates promise they are the knights in shining armor that will save the country, Paul is more prone to lay out the problems America faces and how the problems could be solved. He rarely invokes the first person when he presents solutions. He may want to save the country, but unlike his compatriots, he doesn’t often cast himself as the savior.
Paul’s supporters also defy conventions. Paul, at 76, is the oldest candidate on the ballot yet he has a dedicated base of young supporters. At the primary party on Saturday, Paul seemed as exuberant and energetic as always. And despite his fourth place finish flashing on the TV tuned to CNN, not a single supporter, nor Paul himself, referenced his last place standing. There was no mention of it in Paul’s speech as he and his loyal following shouted, “We have just begun to fight!” Whereas Romney supporters a few blocks over seemed “defiant but deflated” at their candidate’s second place finishing, said Will Mari, fellow UW Election Eye writer.
Perhaps Paul’s unconventional ways are why he’ll solider forward no matter the numbers. He’s focused on the cause, not the polls.