TAMPA, Fla. — Rep. Ron Paul rewarded thousands of his presidential campaign supporters with a rally here Sunday, vowing that with their help, his small government, anti-war libertarian message will continue after he retires — no matter who occupies the White House come January.
Introduced by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, his son and the would-be heir apparent to the political movement headed by the 77-year-old congressman from Texas, Mr. Paul took the stage at the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida to an ovation so long and so thunderous that he was temporarily at a loss for words.
"Is there anything left for me to say?" he asked the crowd wryly.
But he went on to tell them that his cause of liberty was bigger than any convention, or even any election — and that the Republican "big tent" eventually wouldn't matter.
"We will get into the tent, believe me," he said. "Because we will become the tent, eventually."
Mr. Paul trotted out his various policy emphases — abolishing the Federal Reserve, scaling back the country's military spending and repealing the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act allowing for the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects without trial, for example — before sending off his supporters with both gratitude and a call to arms.
"The worst thing we can do is remain silent," he said. "I have been taught, and I've been convinced, that patriotism is that [loyalty] that permits us as a free society to criticize our own government when they're wrong."
Mr. Paul noted that he visited more than 30 college campuses during the campaign — a testament to his popularity among young people as well as old.
"We've come so far in this fight for liberty," said Ashley Ryan, 21, of Maine, the youngest-ever person elected to serve on the Republican National Committee. "You can truly say — this is a revolution."
She was given a standing ovation when she noted Maine Gov. Paul LePage's pledge to skip the convention if the state's 20 pro-Paul delegates were not seated. A convention committee declared last week that Republicans' state convention in May broke both procedural and party rules, and the party voted to divide the delegates equally between Mr. Paul and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.
Sunday's "We Are the Future Rally," interspersed with commercials and spots featuring Mr. Paul on the giant screen behind the stage and performances from the band Blues Traveler and guitar legend Jimmy Vaughan, was a sort of final, uninhibited outlet for his supporters before the start of the Republican National Convention, where events have been pushed back to Tuesday because of concerns related to a tropical storm. Wednesday evening's schedule includes a prime-time speech for Rand Paul and a video tribute to Ron Paul.
One video montage Sunday started off by showing pundits and politicians dismissing Mr. Paul's chances at being elected this year — former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, for example, labeled him a "distraction" — which drew intense boos from the crowd. But the video also included clips of Mr. Paul dressing down Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and former Chairman Alan Greenspan, and Rand Paul doing the same to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, drawing thunderous cheers and signifying an implicit passing of the torch.
"Every one of you has a part to play in this revolution," musician Jordan Page said. "It does not end here in Tampa — it is just beginning."
Over the course of approximately six hours, speaker after speaker took to the podium to expound on the congressman's Libertarian doctrines. But Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan made clear that there is — and always will be — only one Ron Paul.
"I can tell you — there is no next Ron Paul," he said. "Ron Paul is one-of-a-kind. Nobody can replace Ron Paul — but there are many new champions."
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