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A peek at Ron Paul's support

From NBC's Andrew Merten

As First Read noted last week, GOP dark horse candidate Ron Paul now has more cash on hand than once-supposed frontrunner John McCain. While the Texas congressman hasn't held nearly as financially demanding nationwide schedule as McCain, he has developed a grassroots following that aids in spreading name recognition and raising money. We, at the NBC Political Unit, were interested in Paul's grassroot support -- which has been dubbed "The Ron Paul Revolution" -- and decided to attend an organizational meeting/pizza party here in Washington to see how the group operates.

Meeting on a rooftop deck of a downtown Washington apartment building, about 50 Paul supporters -- relying heavily on the internet for their organizational and social networking -- got together Friday evening to discuss campaign volunteering activities, make a YouTube video, and of course, raise some money for their candidate (bringing in $2,500 that night).  Jeff Frazee, the 24-year-old organizer of the event, who will soon be starting as a youth coordinator for the official campaign, said that spreading name recognition is a primary goal of the group, and that this meeting served mainly as a meet-and-greet for members and to plan future activities, such as handing out Paul pamphlets at subway stops and baseball games. "The more people learn about Ron Paul, the higher his polling numbers go," said Frazee, adding that the inverse is true Republican front-runner Giuliani. 

Supporters who attended the event find Paul appealing for several reasons, from his promises to end the personal income tax to his hands-off approach on foreign affairs.  James Hendrickson, a graduate student at University of Maryland, applauds Paul's "live and let live philosophy," saying, "From a civil rights perspective, I think he's right on."  Others believe that youth voters may be a key to propelling Paul forward. "A lot of young people are disillusioned with things and think they aren't going to change," says Lauren Drew, a college student, adding, "But people our age are starting to get jobs and realize how much they're paying in taxes," indicating that Paul's tax policies may resonate with young voters.

While the organization and its counterparts across the country depend heavily on the Internet for networking and spreading Paul name recognition, Frazee does realize that grassroots Paul activity will need to begin employing tools outside the web. "Online we're dominating," he says, "It's just a matter of translating this online army to boots on the ground." Paul supporters are enthusiastic about making an impact at the Ames straw poll next month, now that McCain and Giuliani's choices to not participate have left them with Romney as a key competitor. But although a loose network of grassroots support by 20-something college students and young professionals across the country is certainly an asset, it hasn't yet translated into organization or first-tier poll numbers in early primary states.