Unexpected Hot Bed of Ron Paul Support in Virginia

Mitt Romney is heavily favored to win, but that hasn't stopped some Virginians from supporting Ron Paul.

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ROCKVILLE, Va. — Mitt Romney might have as much as a 49-point lead on Ron Paul according to some estimates of the Virginia primary match-up, but that whopping margin might come as a surprise if you visited the polls at the Cochrane Rockville Branch Library.

Pulling into the parking lot, the lawn is peppered with Ron Paul signs, which lead up to a table installed outside the polling entrance, decked out with a Ron Paul banner and framed by another banner strung on a nearby tree.

Compared to polling stations in Richmond, the Rockville polling place is bustling with activity—albeit some simply library patrons—and many people stop by the table manned by Russ Wright, a Rockville resident and staunch Ron Paul supporter, out of curiosity or to voice their support.

"Where's Mitt Romney?" one voter heading into the polling station asks. Wright shrugs and offers up the generous display of Ron Paul paraphernalia, which includes everything from bumper stickers to pamphlets and magnets.

"I've liked Ron Paul forever," Wright says. "But this is the first campaign I've actually done something."

By "done something," Wright means he's organized the Richmond Virginia Ron Paul Club—187 members strong—canvassed the area surrounding Rockville area, and even gone door-to-door in parts of Richmond.

Why? "Ron Paul moves the country to a better place for citizens," he says.

At the Rockville Library since polls opened at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning, Wright keeps a tally of his best guess at voters' selections coming out of the booths, which surprisingly has Romney and Paul evenly matched.

Wright isn't alone in his support for Ron Paul, but then again, Rockville is the "red-haired stepchild" of Hanover County, according to one voter who asked to remain unnamed. A Rockville resident and a transplant from Massachusetts, she says she voted for Ron Paul because she hates "to be pigeon-holed and told who to vote for."

"Ron Paul needs a chance," she added.

That theme seems to be a common one among voters at the Rockville precinct. Tom Shreve, 52, says he voted for Ron Paul just to "upset the apple cart."

"Mitt Romney is being forced on conservatives and he's not a conservative," Shreve says. "He's a nice man, he's an honest man, but he doesn't hold my beliefs."

When asked whether he would still vote for Ron Paul if the ballot included fellow GOP challengers Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, Shreve pauses.

"That's a really good question," he says, but holds back on a definitive answer.

"Gingrich has a fighting spirit and has the most bona fide conservative credentials based on his past service," Shreve says.

With only two candidates on the ballot, experts predict a lower than usual voter turnout in the Virginia primary overall. About three hours before polls close in Virginia, 132 people had cast their votes at the Rockville Library polling station, according to election officials, slightly better than numbers reported earlier Tuesday in Richmond.

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  • mhandley@usnews.com

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