CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — At the University of Illinois on Wednesday night, Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul promised a young crowd that once he reaches the White House, “students will once again be able to choose their own mascots.”
The NCAA prevented the university’s athletic teams from hosting postseason championship games between 2005 and 2007, when it officially retired its controversial “Chief Illiniwek” mascot — against the wishes of many students.
After a staffer saluted the audience — “Dr. Paul’s grassroots army” — the Texas congressman launched into a stump speech about his desire to “restore the Republic” and protect personal liberties against needless government intrusion.
“In a free society you have the right to do dumb things,” Paul said, insisting that the federal government should intervene with Americans’ lives as little as possible
“I want to be your president,” he said, “Because of the things I don’t want to do.”
With only days remaining before the March 20 Illinois primary, Paul rejected the notion that his campaign lacks a critical mass of support, arguing that he wants to attract “an irate, tireless minority” rather than 51 percent of the vote.
With only 47 delegates won so far, Paul’s minority following has him trailing the rest of the field. His delegate count is just one-tenth that of front-running Mitt Romney. The most recent Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll shows Paul’s support in Illinois hovering at just 7 percent.
But his campaign’s effort to engage college students in the heart of traditionally democratic Illinois could raise Paul’s profile and mobilize the young voters who represent his best opportunity to surge out of the political basement.
According to U.S. Census data, 18- to 24-year-old voters historically have turned out in the lowest numbers — just 48.5%. With his hawkish budget and isolationist foreign policies, Paul hopes to appeal to as many of them as possible.
Illinois Republican Rep. Tim Johnson told the crowd that it represented the single biggest turnout of Paul’s 2012 campaign. Originally scheduled for the 1,600-seat Foellinger Auditorium, the event had to be moved to Huff Hall, a gymnastics and volleyball arena with a capacity of 4,500.
Paul’s proposals ranged from the everyday to the extreme. The Federal Reserve’s 100th anniversary, he said, was reason enough to repeal the Federal Reserve Act. And the IRS, he said, should be scrapped along with the Patriot Act.
“The Patriot Act never would have been passed,” he exclaimed at one point, “if it had been called ‘Repeal the Fourth Amendment’!”
University of Illinois senior Andrew Lee told The Daily Caller that Paul “had some unique philosophies and positions which I think surprised first time political observers … Not quite sure if he scored points for his tough love approach, but I definitely approve.”
That tough love came through in Paul’s rhetoric against wars in the Middle East, and against the Obama administration in general. Since the current administration passed laws by executive orders, he said, a “constitutional president can use an executive order to repeal those laws.”
On that note, chants of “President Paul!” began their crescendo.
“We have a reasonably good constitution,” Paul mused later in his speech. “It’s just — we need to use it once in a while.”