MEREDITH, NH— Hundreds of tried and true Ron Paul supporters filled a town hall meeting this afternoon to hear the 76-year-old Texas congressman speak ahead of Tuesday's Republican primary in the Granite State.
The afternoon forum took place in a ballroom at Church Landing at Mill Falls. Earlier in the day, Paul faced his competition in a nationally televised debate that coincided with the release of the latest Suffolk/7 News poll showing he gained a few points overnight to remain in second place behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Paul's presence at the center of the room— sitting in a chair at times on a raised stage— was reminiscent of a fireside chat, and the devout were asked to cede their questions to undecided voters.
After delivering his standard criticism of monetary policy, federal health care reform and bailouts, Paul was asked how he would put Americans back to work. He said he would start by cutting spending overseas on "wasteful, unwinnable, undeclared wars and start bringing the troops home." The Libertarian-leaning candidate also said he would put the Federal Reserve through a "thorough, complete audit" and legalize competition with the paper money it prints by re-instituting the gold and silver standard. All his points received wild applause from the audience.
"When that message is sent, I think psychologically things would change imediately, because ... businessmen won't invest until they get their confidence back," Paul said.
He also used the opportunity to clarify his foreign policy, which fellow candidate Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker, has labeled as "dangerous" and others have called "isolationist."
"We have to do things to defend this country, but if you get involved in more than 130 countries and 900 bases, we're not doing ourselves much of a favor becaue we don't have much money," he said, adding that going into countries without authority [the way American forces did in Iraq, for instance] would never be tolerated if it happened on United States soil.
"As a matter of fact, I want to be very much engaged, but in a different matter. I don't want to be engaged by acting like a bully," Paul said. "What we need to do is influence the world with our goodness. Our goodness will be spread if we do a good job, if we have freedom and prosperity and civil rights in this country, and we mind our own business."
Immediately after the Q&A, Paul was swarmed by supporters asking him to sign their books and posters. Indeed, the media reports about his ability to attract youthful voters was on display in a ballroom peppered with just as many older people in sweaters and coats as young people in t-shirts and jeans. One young man told the candidate, "It's a dream come true to meet you, sir!"
The Tribune spoke with several individuals who came to hear Paul speak. Among them was Tatiana Moroz, a blonde, twenty-something musician who said she and her friends drove in from New Jersey to campaign for Paul around the state. Sunday's town hall marked the first time she saw the congressman deliver his political philosophy in the flesh.
"Honestly, I'm very, very overwhelmed," she said. "Everything that Ron says is the truth and I think that when you hear a lot of the other candidates— it feels false. And when you hear the truth, you know the truth."
Barbara Aichinger, an electrical engineer and independent voter from the nearby town of Gilford, said she was wooed by Paul's message through her 23-year-old son. She said she plans to vote for Paul because his early warnings about the war in Iraq and the debt crisis turned out to be prescient.
"Even if he doesn't [win the GOP nomination], my message to him is stay in it all the way to the end, so that we can educate people as to sound monetary policy, constitutional government and sensible foreign policy. So in reality, the message transcends the man," Aichinger said.
Her neighbor, Chuck Ehrlich, came to hear Paul speak, too. Though he was lured to the event with promises Paul would convert him from his Democrat views, he told the Tribune he remains concerned about Paul's rigidness on health care reform.
"If you watch the debates, the only guy who says anything is Dr. Paul. The rest of them are all cliches are absurd stuff," he said, adding he agrees with Paul's views on reforming defense spending. "But, I don't want to go back to 1940, either. I sense Dr. Paul is maybe nostalgic for an America that maybe never existed."
The Tribune's Thanh Tan is in New Hampshire through Tuesday's primary to cover Congressman Ron Paul on the campaign trail. She'll be posting video over the coming days. Follow her Twitter handle @uscthanhtan for updates.