TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa is the end of the road for Ron Paul’s presidential hopes, but his die-hard supporters aren’t going quietly into the night.
They are making one last stink here, complaining to anyone who will listen that the Texas congressman got a raw deal from the managers of the Republican National Convention.
It’s not exactly the image of unity and common purpose Mitt Romney was hoping to project at the convention, which is set to have its full slate of speakers take the stage starting Tuesday after most of Monday's events were rescheduled because of Tropical Storm Isaac.
“I’d rather have Obama than Romney,” said Stephanie Traska, a Georgetown, Texas, graphic designer who attended a Ron Paul event Sunday night. “I’m against foreign wars.”
Traska and her fiancé, an alternate delegate for Paul, drove from Central Texas to Tampa to show their support for the unsuccessful candidate. She echoed the disgust that many Paul supporters harbor against the Romney campaign.
Paul fans are upset that the Lake Jackson Republican wasn’t given a speaking role at the convention and say the Romney forces are trying to squelch any dissenting views at the event. They are particularly upset about newly proposed rules that would make it harder for insurgent candidates to have an impact in future primaries and conventions.
“They’re trying to change the rules to make a grassroots challenge more difficult,” said Matt Stringer of Odessa, a Texas delegate who is bound to Romney but favors Paul. Stringer said Paul delegates have been treated “horribly.”
Paul was offered a speaking slot at the convention but only if he agreed to give Romney his unqualified support and allowed his campaign to vet the remarks he was going to deliver, Paul told The New York Times. He refused.
“I don’t fully endorse him for president,” Paul told the paper.
Paul's son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is scheduled to speak at the GOP convention.
Ron Paul staged one last hoorah here Sunday, addressing thousands of supporters at the Sun Dome on the University of South Florida campus. Paul was given a hero’s welcome at the event, and he delivered a characteristically defiant speech.
“The worst thing we could do is be silent,” Paul said.
After the rally, Paul’s delegates and alternates gathered at the bayside Whiskey Joe’s Bar and Grill. Paul held a closed-door dinner meeting with the delegates and alternates inside while spouses and guests mingled on the beach below.
Paul supporter Cara Bonin of Alpine, Texas, was asked what drew her to the Texas congressman. She reached into her back pocked and pulled out a rumpled copy of the U.S. Constitution.
“I believe in personal liberty,” she said. Bonin, who described herself as new to the Republican Party, said there was “no way” she would vote for Romney.
Several Paul supporters who came to Whiskey Joe’s said they would write in Paul’s name on the ballot in November. Others said they were leaning toward Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor who failed to gain traction as a Republican presidential candidate and is now running on the Libertarian ticket.
Greg Leone, a Paul supporter from Coon Rapids, Minn., said he was disappointed the congressman didn’t go all the way. But he said Paul’s legacy will live on as his supporters focus on electing candidates who support his ideals elected to state and local offices around the country.
“We wanted him to be our next president," he said. "That won’t happen now. It’s a little bit sad, but it’s definitely been a positive over all."