The Misfits

Jamelle Bouie

Texas Congressman Ron Paul talks to a small group of supporters in North Charleston, South Carolina.

North Charleston, South Carolina—Ron Paul seems to have a thing for airports. Of the two rallies I’ve attended for the Texas congressman, both have been in airport hangars on the outskirts of a major city (in this case, Charleston). But while the first event was packed with supporters, this one had far fewer attendees—excluding press, I counted 80 people, which was barely enough to surround the stage where Paul spoke.

More important, as with Paul supporters in other states, these voters weren’t typical Republicans, if they were Republicans at all. Alexandra (she declined to give her last name), for example, was a traveling nurse who just came back from assignment in Jordan. While abroad, she didn’t pay much attention to the Republican primaries and saw this as the best opportunity to see what Paul had to say.

Her big issue? She wants someone who can help reduce student-loan debt. “I would love to go to grad school,” she said, after praising the schools in South Carolina, “but with my debt and the cost of tuition, I just can’t.” She’s looking for anyone who has a plan for people in her situation, and she hopes that Ron Paul might be the one.

Likewise, Jerry Rose, a Charleston-based furniture designer, was most interested in Paul’s anti-war message. “We don’t need to be in 130 countries or however many it is,” he said, referring to the number of places where American soldiers are stationed, “As human beings, we need to be together, not divided. We need to help countries, not bomb them.”

I asked him about his thoughts on Ron Paul’s opposition to foreign aid, and after wiping a smear from his toddler’s face—who was busy eating Skittles while we spoke—he offered qualified support. “It depends on the aid. I would actually like to see the United States make sure the aid is going to the right people, and not dictators,” he said.

Both Alexandra and Jerry were fairly young, which fits with the profile of a Ron Paul supporter. Indeed, it’s not hard to see why young South Carolinians would be attracted to the Texas congressman; with a neutered Democratic Party on one end and a doctrinaire Republican Party on the other, the “Ron Paul Revolution” provides a space for center-right voters with unorthodox views.

Indeed, one of the more interesting things about the South Carolina primary is that these voters are a nontrivial portion of the electorate. After all, for as much as the South Carolina Republican primary has been hyped as a contest between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, Paul has been a strong contender in the state. His debate performances are popular, and at the moment—according to the latest survey from Public Policy Polling—he holds the third-place spot in the race.

What’s more, Paul is the only other candidate—besides Romney—who has the resources and support necessary to compete through Florida and into the remaining months of the primary. Of course, Ron Paul will not be the Republican nominee, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t hang on as the party’s gadfly.

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