Paul backers moving to larger Target Center for Sept. rally

Ron Paul
Ron Paul spoke to a group of supporters outside the Republican state convention in Rochester in June.
MPR Photo/Mike Mulcahy

Ron Paul is moving his so-called Rally for the Republic from the University of Minnesota's Williams Arena to the Target Center in Minneapolis.

In an e-mail to supporters, Paul said he made the move after measuring the excitement and enthusiasm of his supporters. That means the campaign expects 15,000 people to fill the arena, 4,000 more than could have attended at the university.

"We would not have put all of our cards on the table if we weren't very very confident that we would fill the Target Center," said Jesse Benton -- the spokesman for Paul's Campaign for Liberty group.

Benton said tickets for the rally go on sale this Friday at the patriotic price of $17.76.

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He said Paul will also hold a book signing, a training for like-minded candidates and a dinner for donors during the week. Benton said it's no coincidence that the rally and two other days of events will be held at the same time as the Republican National Convention is going on in St. Paul. He said the Campaign for Liberty's mission is to encourage the Republican Party to return to its roots.

"We want to send a strong message to the Republican Party that there are millions of people out there -- part of this growing limited government movement - that want the Republican Party to return to its traditions of personal freedom, limited government, balanced budgets and common sense foreign policy," he said.

The Paul event will be another reminder that his supporters are not happy with the Republican Party. Paul was deafeated by John McCain in his bid to win the GOP nomination for president.

Many of Paul's supporters have tried unsuccessfully to get seated at the Republican National Convention. They had hoped that their efforts would have given Paul a speaking slot at the convention. Paul's spokesman said Paul requested to speak at the convention but doesn't expect an invitation because he refuses to endorse John McCain. Paul has been a vocal critic of McCain's foreign policy proposals - especially his support for the war in Iraq.

McCain's campaign is staying silent on Paul's event. But Minnesota Republican Party Chair Ron Carey said Republicans are focused on helping McCain win in November.

"There's a clear choice for voters this year between John McCain and Barack Obama and we need to make sure people see what that clear choice is because last I checked Ron Paul is not running for president this year," he said "He's not on the ballot, so spending a lot of time on Ron Paul isn't going to do anything to make sure our conservative values aren't forwarded."

Carlton College political science professor Steven Schier said he doesn't think Paul's rally will have an impact on the presidential race. He compared Ron Paul supporters to professional hockey fans - a small, vocal and passionate group that is just a small subset of the larger population.

"He's got a small group of people who are intensely supportive and focused upon him," he said. "It's really rare to see that level of support and intensity but it is a limited group. Beyond that group, everyone else is sort of scratching their heads and saying 'what's that all about."

But Paul's supporters say they intend to make a statement with the rally. Benton said supporters are snatching up the hotel rooms that haven't been reserved by the Republican Party. He said rally-goers are preparing to live in RVs, camp at nearby state parks or bunk in the homes of Minnesota supporters of Ron Paul.