SANDPOINT — I wish I had started counting right away.
At a campaign stop Monday at the Bonner County Fairgrounds hall filled with a standing-room only crowd here in Northern Idaho, Ron Paul hammered President Obama and his Republican opponents on economic policies and highlighted abolishing the Federal Reserve — making the latter point what must have been more than 20 times.
But I started counting too late to know the exact tally. At minimum, it was more than enough to get the point across.
Fliers around the room and posted on the doors highlighted caucus locations in Bonner County, something which introduction speakers made very clear at the beginning of the event. Energy was high and many event attendees said that this was their first political event.
“Nobody ever comes to Sandpoint,” said one young attendee who preferred his name not be used. “Usually we would have to go to Coeur D’Alene or Spokane to see somebody this important. It’s great that he cares about small towns like ours.”
Paul stuck to many of his regular talking points — such as returning to the gold standard, and highlighting big government as the cause of today’s economic issues, not the solution — but he also took steps to tailor his speech to the Idaho crowd, something he rarely does.
“Sandpoint is a small town, but it’s an important one in the cause for liberty,” he said.
An introduction speaker said that Paul was the godfather of Idaho’s state’s rights movement.
The liberty-hungry crowd gave massive applause to abolishing federal welfare programs, even in this economically depressed region.
“When the government is small, the people are big,” Paul said. “The Founding Fathers didn’t intend for this to be a democracy; they wrote the Constitution for a republic … The bigger the government gets, the less liberties we have. We can’t fix everything by making the government bigger — it’s what got us into this mess in the first place. The government doesn’t have any money, it only has the money that it steals from people!”
The crowd went wild.
When he touched on other topics it was always within the context of the economy, such as his declaration to end the war in Afghanistan in order save $4 billion a year.
But it wasn’t all for the Texas representative. It was a town hall and Paul faced three questions from the crowd and some in attendance were still undecided.
The first question came from a middle-aged man, “Dr. Paul, what is your response to those who would say your foreign policy is dangerous?”
Paul offered his definitions of non-intervention and isolationism, casting them as extreme strategies that are not what he supports. He then talked about trade and having relationships with different countries as a way to bring about peace and highlighted Vietnam as an example of trade working better to bring about Western ideals than the Vietnam War: “I think going into countries like we do now creates enemies.” And again, he delved back into economic policy: “Our foreign policy is a major contributor to the coming bankruptcy of this country.”
Another attendee asked about his electability — on which Paul responded by blaming mainstream news media for putting forward propaganda against him, a tactic that is usually a surefire-win with conservative audiences. He also said that polling data showing him against Obama isn’t so unreasonable, based on Paul’s broad coalition of younger voters, independents, and even some former Democrats.
The last question struck home here in Idaho, with competing conservative ideologies and different tendencies represented in each candidate, “As an evangelical Christian, why should I vote for you?”
Paul paused a moment before responding, “Well,” he said, “The same reason that everybody else should vote for liberty. Non-believers, Christians, Catholics, and Jews should vote for liberty because we want our independence and we want our freedom of choice protected.”
Some undecided evangelicals said his response was not up-to-snuff.
“As a Christian, I was hoping he would answer that last question a little bit more to the point,” said Lee, an undecided attendee, who didn’t give his last name. “I felt like it was a vague answer because we’re all here for liberty, it’s what we all stand for.”
These undecided conservatives, choosing between socially conservative values and Constitutional liberty, could make or break the presidential race for Paul here in Idaho.