The line to shake Ron Paul’s hand snaked down one hallway, up a flight of stairs, looped around a corner and down the length of another hall.
It was early Saturday morning at the Minnesota Republican Party state convention and the Republican presidential candidate was giving some time back to the delegates and volunteers who had helped push his agenda – and his favored U.S. Senate candidate – to the forefront of the convention.
“You’ve selected our candidate for Senate,” Paul told a crowd at a $20-a-plate fundraiser that raised at least $12,000 for the cash-strapped state GOP. “I think you’re doing a great job.”
Paul supporters are hoping to fill the Minnesota delegation to the national Republican convention with as many like-minded Paul backers as possible. Paul, who has suspended active campaigning, but still hopes to shape the debate at the convention, cheered the state’s efforts.
“I think this is one of the greatest states that I have witnessed, where I have seen the transition, where the enthusiasm’s there,” Paul said. “I congratulate you on your enthusiasm, for trying to bring this battle. Ultimately, if it’s a true revolution it will not only be in the Republican party, it will be pervasive.”
Paul said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Minnesota would send his delegates to Tampa.
“This isn’t about changing the Republican Party, it’s about reminding the Republican Party that we’re supposed to be the party of liberty…We’re supposed to be the fiscal conservatives,” he said.
Introducing Paul, newly-endorsed Senate candidate Kurt Bills told the crowd: “There’s no greater guy that has taught us how to logically, reasonably and respectfully take the other side, sometimes your own people, to task for things that we just can’t agree with. That guy has got a great, great message for our party.”
An estimated 700 to 800 people lined up to shake Paul’s hand at 7 a.m. The people at the front of the line had been at the convention center since 5:30 a.m.
“I wanted to meet the most compelling political figure of our lifetime,” said Michael Fiato of Bloomington.
For Mark Santelman, one of the Paul supporters vying for a delegate’s spot to the Tampa convention, the scene in St. Cloud was a sea change from his experience at the 2008 state GOP convention, when Paul supporters weren’t allowed to step up to the microphones and their candidate wasn’t allowed into the building to speak.
“Pay no attention to the Romney posters on the wall. This is all about Paul,” he joked, shaking hands along the line waiting to meet Paul. “We own the convention now.”
“We’ve gotten away from the constitution and we are $16 trillion in debt, we are $2 trillion in annual deficit, we have slaughtered 55 million babies in the wombs of the women in this country, we have a federal reserve bank that is neither federal, nor reserve nor a bank,” Santelman said, reeling off a few of the points he hopes to drive home at the national convention.
But Bills, whose campaign was driven by support from Ron Paul’s supporters, was ready to work with Romney camp.
“We’re all on the same team,” Bills said, shaking hands in the halls before the convention got underway. “We can all move forward together. The little differences that divide us is not going to overcome what unifies us.”