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After the boos, a better reception for Ron Paul

NEW ORLEANS -- Even when he was running for president, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) didn't really give presidential campaign speeches.

He wasn't much for pointing people to social networks, asking for votes, or -- especially -- mentioning other candidates. (The one exception was his bete noire, Rudy Giuliani.) He didn't stop for applause. He lectured. And that's what he did here, before a stratified SRLC crowd, as some baffled Republican activists walked out and (largely youthful) Paul fans trickled in. Mainline Republicans sat stage right; Paul fans sat stage left.

Most of the politicians here have limned their speeches with easy applause lines. Paul did some of that without altering his stances. "There's a revolution on our college campuses!" he said. "They're not looking for handouts, they're looking for freedom!" That got applause from both sides, as did doom-mongering about the dollar and general cries for freedom.

"I'm for regulation," said Paul, "but the number one regulation is to regulate the Federal Reserve system!"

Paul courted boos by returning, again and again, to the primacy of "humble" foreign policy.

"It's been 60 years since we went to war in Korea," said Paul. "Why do we have to have troops there?"

"North Korea!" yelled a heckler.

But the boos were kept to a minimum by some clever phrasing. Paul hectored the crowd about how faith to the Constitution meant demanding wars be approved by Congress. Not so many cheers. Then: "Declare the war, go fight, win it, and get out of there." That finally united the halves of the room.

There was a mass exodus as the speech ended and Paul fans -- visibly, dramatically younger than the average attendee -- headed out to mingle and vote in the straw poll. Expectations, post-CPAC, were high, so what did Paul fans hope that a straw poll win would mean?

"I think it would show that the Republican Party is returning to its roots," said John Heniken, a University of Mississippi student who joined 16 friends to come here and vote for Paul. Then, unprompted, he took a dig at a more famous Republican face. "Sarah Palin is the death of intellectual conservatism."

Paul, who held court with bloggers after the speech -- the grand took a question on why his supporters seemed disinterested in the Republican Party itself. "The question you should be asking," said Paul, "is, why isn't the Republican Party interested in them? We can get huge crowds with this message."

By David Weigel  |  April 10, 2010; 5:15 PM ET
Categories:  Ron Paul , SRLC  
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