Tony VanDemark of Little Canada had dabbled in politics before. He volunteered a few times for Republican candidates. But this year, VanDemark fully immersed himself in the process. His inspiration came from Texas Rep. and GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul.
"This was the first person to actually come out and say these are my beliefs, take it or leave it," he said. "This is the way I voted for the entire time I was in Congress take it or leave it. And it was just refreshing to see somebody who had that view."
VanDemark, an IT consultant and parent of two young children, said Paul stood out in the GOP debates with his opposition to the Iraq war. Paul's libertarian views on the economy, government and foreign policy also provided sharp contrasts.
"They don't want to necessarily take over party leadership. They just want a voice."
VanDemark went to his precinct caucus to support Paul. He's now headed to the state convention as a Paul delegate.
"He's brought in so many people into this that are motivated, that are on the ground floor, that are getting involved," he said. "And not just at the caucuses. They're staying involved. And they don't want to necessarily take over party leadership. They just want a voice."
But VanDemark and other Paul supporters will have to gather outside the convention hall in Rochester to hear their candidate speak.
Ron Carey, chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota, said the only way Ron Paul can address the state convention is if he ends his candidacy and endorses John McCain.
"Rep. Paul waged a very credible battle here, but the battle is over and it's time to coalesce around Sen. McCain and enhance our chances of prevailing in November," Carey said. "There's no benefit for Republicans to continue on with a battle after the battle has been fought and a victor has been declared."
A similar assessment came from Paul himself in March, when he told supporters in a video that his campaign was winding down and that a victory in the conventional sense was not available. But Paul never ended the campaign.
Marianne Stebbins, Paul's state coordinator in Minnesota, said his candidacy is still serving an important educational role.
"The reason we're still in this, the reason Ron Paul is still in this is because we think his message is important," she said. "We think the Republican Party has slid and plummeted really a long ways from its core principles. So we want to have the other delegates hear somebody actually get up there and talk about what the Republican Party used to believe in."
Paul supporters also want their message heard in September at the party's national convention in St. Paul. Stebbins said the goal at the state convention is to add to Ron Paul's national delegate count. But she expects party leaders will take steps to prevent that.
Paul supporters are running into similar roadblocks throughout the country.
Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University, said the Republican establishment wants Paul out of the way as they unify the party behind John McCain. But Abramowitz said Republicans run a risk if they close the door on Paul supporters.
"I mean they're obviously not a large group, but if you alienate them, shut them out of the process, I think there's a real risk that those people would then look to a third party or independent candidate in November," he said.
Abramowitz said alienated Paul supporters could likely move toward former Republican Rep. Bob Barr, who's running as the Libertarian Party candidate for president.
He said Barr might win 2 or 3 percent of the vote in November, which could potentially affect the outcome in a few swing states.
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