Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul is a long shot to win the party's nomination; but his libertarian message is stirring a cadre of Southern Californians, some of whom are new to politics. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde says they've found clever ways to back their guy.
Nate Howe: It's important to say that you're a volunteer.
Kitty Felde: The task for the downtown L.A. Ron Paul Meetup group was simple: Send Ron Paul postcards to primary voters in the state of New York. Organizer Nate Howe said it worked in Iowa, where Paul got 10% of the vote.
Howe: It's so much more meaningful and powerful, if you are an independent voter or an undecided voter, to get a personal note from someone across the country who cares about Ron Paul. That's so much more important than getting a printed leaflet, maybe from Mitt Romney's campaign.
Felde: The volunteers are mostly young men. But there are exceptions, like Sarah Foster.
Sarah Foster: I've been a political activist for many years. I've even worked for Barry Goldwater. (laughs) I walked precincts for Barry.
Felde: Goldwater's mantra was less government and more freedom. Ron Paul preaches both, along with free trade, no income tax, no war on drugs, and no more war in Iraq. It's a largely libertarian message, and in Southern California, it's attracted a small but motivated audience of loyalists and political newcomers. For 29-year-old Benjamin Ahdoot, this is not only his first campaign. This will be the first time he's ever cast a ballot.
Benjamin Ahdoot: I never cared to vote because I understood, and I made the connections, and I figured out that these two parties, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, as far as the last ten years are concerned, are just different sides of the same coin.
Felde: Ahdoot owns a mortgage telemarketing company. He's been watching the housing bubble collapse, and he says Ron Paul's libertarian economic policies make sense.
Ahdoot: I'm right in the middle of it, and I see the great depression that we're headed towards, and it seems like he's been saying this all along.
Felde: Ahdoot decided he could help the cause.
Ahdoot: Hey, I have this office and it's relatively big, and I could turn it into a call center for Ron because my business is really slow. This is the best contribution I could possibly make.
Felde: Juliet Annerino is another Paul supporter who will vote for the very first time in February.
Juliet Annerino: You know, I first found out about Ron Paul through the Bill Maher show.
Bill Maher: I watched the Republican debate, and I saw this guy Ron Paul. And he's my new hero.
Annerino: ... and him saying that Ron Paul was his new hero, which I thought was pretty crazy for a guy who's a well-known cynic like Bill Maher.
Felde: Annerino was hooked. She watched Paul's speeches on YouTube, a dozen a night. And then she found a way to make her contribution: She created a pin-up girl fundraising calendar called "Hotties for Ron Paul."
Annerino: You know, I was trying to find a unique way to apply my own talents and make it fun. 'Cause Ron Paul always tells us, "Keep it fun, volunteers. Do what you want to do to help, but always keep a good attitude about it." And I thought, well here's something that I can apply my talents to – I do Photoshopping, I edit, I write. So I found people through MySpace, through the Ron Paul forums, a lot of guys there helped, and even through Craigslist I found one of our girls.
Felde: Now wait a minute, wait a minute: guys suggested girls for the calendar?
Annerino: Yes. Exactly!
Felde: Ron Paul supporters are known for publicity stunts, like holding up signs at the Rose Parade and outside the CNN studios. But the bottom line isn't name recognition. It's winning delegates, and toward that end, attorney Bill Johnson says new Republican Party rules in California could make a difference. The state's GOP primary has switched from a "winner take all" system to one that awards delegates to the candidate who wins the most votes in each congressional district.
Bill Johnson: This helps people like Ron Paul in very weak Republican districts like San Francisco, or inner city Los Angeles, because not very many Republicans will turn out to vote. But all Ron Paul people will turn out to vote, so that gives him a better chance of taking delegates.
Felde: This is a room full of true believers, and don't tell Benjamin Ahdoot that his candidate has little chance of winning the Republican nomination.
Ahdoot: Actually, someone said that to me today. And I said, he has a chance if you vote for him, you know.
Felde: But to vote for Ron Paul, independents and Libertarians who like his message have to re-register as Republicans. It's the only way they can get the Republican primary ballot. The deadline to do that is Tuesday, January 22nd.