Ron Paul supporters flood national caucus

by Amy Kingsley

A casual observer to Winston-Salem’s Dec. 7 open presidential caucus could be forgiven a little historical confusion. After all the year is 2007, not 1896, and the major economic issue subprime loans, not the solvency of the bi-metal monetary standard.

But this was a Ron Paul crowd. And Paul, the Libertarian turned anti-war Republican, attracts the kind of supporters still stuck on policy changes enacted by the Wilson administration.

Two Dennis Kucinich supporters, a Tom Tancredo partisan and 43 Ron Paul enthusiasts weren’t participating in anything politically binding. Instead the event was part of a nationwide pilot program, the National Presidential Caucus, conceived by a bunch of political bloggers. The event was supposed to demonstrate a system to replace the current state-by-state primary process. It was a voluntary program, and more than a dozen caucuses occurred across the country on the appointed date.

Vernon Robinson, a former Winston-Salem city council member and two-time congressional candidate, organized the caucus with the help of Jennifer Dale, an activist from the other side of the aisle.

“She helped me out,” Robinson said. “My list of Democratic contacts is kind of short.”

Robinson, a staunch conservative known for his outlandish campaign ads and anti-immigrant rhetoric, heard about the National Caucus on several political blogs. He called the Forsyth County Democratic Party to ask if the Democrats might be interested in collaborating.

As it turns out, the Democrats and Republicans in Forsyth County do have one issue on which they agree: North Carolina should have more say in picking presidential candidates.

“Our primary is on May 6,” Robinson said, “which means it might as well be in 2009.”

Dale nodded. She had arrived early at Forsyth Academy, a public charter school where the caucus was scheduled. Early caucusers had to wait until cheerleading practice ended to take over the gym.

Once inside, the organizers erected two folding tables that they piled with campaign literature. Robinson arrived about 15 minutes before the 6 p.m. start with three Mike Huckabee yard signs tucked under his arm.

“These are probably the only three Huckabee signs in all of North Carolina,” he said. “You’d be amazed at how we had to wheel and deal with the folks in South Carolina to get these.”

Robinson said he intercepted the signs from a Republican operative traveling between Lynchburg, Va. and South Carolina, an early primary state receiving lavish attention from presidential candidates.

The National Presidential Caucus is one way to increase the influence of voters outside the early primary states. It goes like this: Voters caucus all over the country on the same night, and post the results online.

For the 2007 National Presidential Caucus, which is nonbinding, participants selected not only their preferred candidate, but also the top three issues facing the country. Given the number of Paul supporters, the candidate debate hardly qualified as one.

Afterwards the participants got down to the business of selecting the top three issues. All 46 caucus goers, including the three not supporting Paul, agreed that foreign policy – particularly the war in Iraq – was the biggest issue facing the nation.

Other mainstream issues weren’t completely ignored. The first on the board was immigration, several participants groused about the size of government, another mentioned the Second Amendment and the last said she would like abortion outlawed.

But this being a Ron Paul crowd, they brought with them the kinds of issues that rarely register on mainstream polls.

“I would like to see the United Nations blown to smithereens,” said one caucus-goer, an issue that was tactfully rephrased as “Withdraw from the United Nations” for the official minutes.

The group came out against the PATRIOT Act and the CIA, the North American Union, Social Security, the Internal Revenue Service and the 17th Amendment, which changed the appointment of US senators by state legislators into a popular vote.

In the end, the caucus decided to send three issues to the national organization. In addition to the Iraq War, the caucusers of Winston-Salem are on record as advocating a return to a true constitutional republic – with an emphasis on states’ rights – and the return of personal freedoms and privacy.

Robinson said he hoped that two 17-year-olds would make it to the caucus. An obscure clause in North Carolina elections law allows 17-year-olds to vote in the primary if they turn 18 before the general election in November. That encompasses about 45 percent of the 17-year-olds during any given election year.

In the end, the 17-year-olds never materialized, and neither did any Mike Huckabee supporters. By 8 p.m., the three hard-won signs resting against the folding table had disappeared, buried under a mountain of Ron Paul literature.

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