Hoping to ride the shoulders of passionate Minnesota fans Tuesday. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul packed events in the state Saturday, speaking of liberty over government and rights over entitlement.
"There is reason to be optimistic that now the people are thinking correctly....We don't need more government," Paul told a standing room only crowd in a Rochester high school Saturday.
Paul may have some reason to find optimism in Minnesota. His campaign has been organizing for the caucuses for months and has a structure to, as one supporter said, "storm the caucuses."
With a still-unsettled electorate, Minnesota's Tuesday straw poll is gaining attention from the remaining Republican candidates as they look for momentum to fight on. Paul, Romney and Santorum supporters are now streaming television ads in Minnesota and they and Newt Gingrich fans are now dialing for votes among Republican activists.
Paul's on the ground campaigning over Saturday and Monday will be matched by Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, who are also pitching Minnesotans for votes during their visits. Newt Gingrich has the most recently organized campaign here but his fans are still hoping the former U.S. House Speaker will stop by the next 48 hours.
With few polls among Minnesota caucus goers and a non-binding vote on Tuesday, even longtime Minnesota polls are left guessing about how it will play out.
"There is no way to predict a straw poll," said Republican National Committeeman Jeff Johnson, a Gingrich fan.
So far, Paul has not won any of the early states, although he came in a close third in Iowa.
Paul's hopes in Minnesota rest not just on passion but on organization. His fans have been on the ground for months, gathering steam for the caucuses. At his Saturday events, volunteers gathered contact information from anyone who was willing to sign up and, in Rochester, fans practiced caucusing in advance of Tuesday evening's vote. In a low turnout caucus, that could give him the edge.
"We are feeling super good about this coming Tuesday," said Marianne Stebbins, Paul's Minnesota director.
The 12-term U.S. representative from Texas was the first to visit the state last year, turning out nearly 3,000 people at a St. Cloud rally and has capitalized on voters unease with their state by promising a radical turn not just from the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama but from the path of the last 100 years.
At a Saturday morning rally, he rarely mentioned the current president and did not use the names of any of his Republican rivals, instead hearkening back to what he said were bad government decisions of 1913, 1971 and 2007.
"Our problems are a lot longer than three years long," Paul said.
He promised to cut $1 trillion from federal spending, repeal the Patriot Act and refocus government on liberty, not entitlements.
"I find that there is a great interest in the cause of liberty," Paul said. "Our liberties are still under attack."
That cry holds some sway with Tea Party folks.
"He was Tea Party before it was cool," said Walter Hudson, of the North Star Tea Party Patriots.
Paul's coolness won him about 16 percent of the caucus vote in 2008. He did particularly well in urban areas and will hold a massive rally on Monday night at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
He also has found new fans, including 15-year-old Devin Alexander, of Rochester.
The high school student Saturday paused from buying a Ron Paul t-shirt to explain that he was introduced to the 76-year-old candidate on YouTube and found common sense in his prescription.
"The debt is going on my generation's shoulders," Alexander said. Paul, he said, "is one of the most conservative politicians in American history -- no joke."
While Alexander can't vote on Tuesday, his parents can. After Alexander introduced them to Paul via the internet, they not only attended Saturday's rally in Rochester, they're planning to caucus for Paul on Tuesday.