TAMPA---It was less anger and more love at the Ron Paul rally Sunday, where the Texas congressman and cult hero delivered what was likely to be his last-ever speech as a candidate for president, after five years in the race.
According to police and organizers, some 11,000 people gathered in the University of South Florida Sun Dome to see the speech, which hit on all of Paul's favorites themes: ending the federal reserve, ending the war on drugs and a foreign policy of non-intervention.
Hundreds of Paul fans who couldn't get in to the sold-out event watched the speech on a nearby jumbotron, or hung around outside the building, many of them smoking cigarettes as they stood pressed up to the glass.
Paul, who is a member of the Republican party but holds Libertarian views, has been an irritation to the GOP as he has continually added delegates to the convention despite having stopped pursuing the nomination months ago. Earlier this week, the Romney campaign told Paul he could speak at the convention—so long as he endorsed Romney and got his speech vetted by the campaign. Paul politely declined, saying he didn't "fully" endorse Romney.
On Sunday, Paul joked about not speaking at the convention, and did the speech his own way: as a family affair. The Texas congressman and physician was introduced to speak by his son Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who was in turn introduced by his mother Carol, and some 15 of their family members, all of whom gathered on stage with their children.
As Carol Paul spoke, the crowd chanted her name, and some women began to cry. Rally organizers dubbed her "the first lady of liberty." When Rand Paul took the stage, the chants of "Carol! Carol! Carol!" became "Paul 16! Paul 16! Paul 16!"
Rand, who has become nationally recognized because of the speeches he made in support his father, spent his time on stage Sunday recalling the highlights of Ron Paul's long presidential campaign. When he repeated his father's now-famous line about getting out of Iraq: "we just marched in, we can just march out," the crowd stomped and hollered for minutes.
And when Ron Paul took the stage after Rand, the crowd went bonkers.
The 77-year-old congressman did his signature hand wag at the applause, signaling: Enough. Enough.
He spent several seconds surveying the crowd, where thousands held "Revolution" signs with the word "Love" highlighted in red, where Don't Tread On Me flags were waved, and where one college aged boy held a sign made in glitter that read: "We love Ron Paul." A toddler wore the shirt: "My mommy and daddy are voting for Ron Paul."
"With the hurricane … in Washington, D.C., they said the revolution will not be happening," Paul said, looking out at the thousands before him. "Don't they only wish?"
The crowd roared.
Paul, who spent about an hour criticizing American foreign, domestic and mostly, monetary, policies, at times seemed as if he were rambling. But whenever the Congressman sensed a waning of excitement, he'd quite suddenly raise the volume of his voice, to thunderous applause.
After he implored the audience to "make your own choices," one woman gushed to a nearby policeman: "Isn't he wonderful? Why can't we just have a president like him."
The policeman didn't respond. But Lorie Siefer, who traveled from Biloxi, Miss., to see Paul's speech, said if she couldn't have a president like him, she didn't want one.
"I won't vote for Romney. Romney and Obama are two sides of the same coin," she said.
Siefer, who wore a passion of the Christ T-shirt and a hat that read "rebels," said she started supporting Paul in 2008 when her son told her about the congressman's views on war. She says she kept supporting him because he wants a government that doesn't control health care.
"They tell you what to think, how to live your life," she said of Romney and Obama. "But Paul, he's a real human being. So personable. So humble."
Jason Campbell, a volunteer for Paul echoed her: "He's not really a congressman. And that's why we love him."
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