GOP presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul has high hopes for Alaska on Super Tuesday, and after Sunday rallies in the state's two largest cities, he might not be too far off.
Paul is the only candidate to have actually visited Alaska leading up to the vote on Tuesday, and Alaskans responded enthusiastically.
Paul filled a room (and then some) at a rally in Fairbanks in the early part of the day, where the campaign estimated 1,100 people showed up. Later that evening, at the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage, some of the 1,000 available seats sat empty at the beginning of Paul's speech, but by the time he was done, the crowd was stacked a half-dozen deep in a standing-room-only area in the back.
The Anchorage supporters were a strange mishmash, seemingly from all walks of life, and a testament to the 76-year-old Paul's own unusual approach to politics. Many people wore T-shirts supporting Paul -- or bashing Barack Obama -- and others carried campaign or homemade signs, which they waved the moment Paul took the stage and introduced his wife, who had come along, as well as one of his 18 grandchildren.
John Tobin, wearing an "end the Fed" shirt, was one of the first people right outside the door. He was a state delegate in 2008, he said, who voted for Paul then, and he was excited to see the Texas Congressman speak.
"Today is my 33rd birthday," he said. "Instead of going to have drinks and cake with my friends and family, I came to watch this old guy speak."
Standing next to him was Beau Thibodeau, a 21-year-old who was too young to vote the last time Paul ran for president in 2008. He said he liked Paul's belief that state sovereignty should take precedence over federal governance, which Tobin agreed with.
Not everyone there was necessarily going to vote for Paul. J.W. Terrill said that he was there to see Paul because he had been living in Lake Jackson, Texas, when Ron Paul -- who was licensed as a medical doctor in 1961 -- delivered both of Terrill's sons.
"I just came hoping I could shake his hand, see if he recognizes me," Terrill said, but that he didn't plan to vote for Paul, nor did he vote for him in 2008.
"I like him," Terrill said. "I like his fiscal policy, but his foreign policy scares me. He seems to think that if you're nice to them, they'll be nice to you," which isn't always the case, he said.
Paul has earned a reputation as a scrappy, stick-to-your-guns conservative with a dislike for big government and a love for individual liberty. In a state that sees itself as strong and independent, Paul said his beliefs seem to shine through.
"I've always thought that the state of Alaska has already gotten the message," Paul said in the early part of his stump speech.
Paul did fairly well in 2008, beating even Sen. John McCain and taking third place behind Romney and Mike Huckabee.
Paul spoke for less than an hour in Anchorage, but he covered a number of topics hitting the highlights of his campaign, including his desire to end the Federal Reserve Bank, reducing taxes, deregulating numerous government agencies, and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The American people are tired of these wars, and they want to come home," Paul said.
He took a couple of subtle digs at his GOP presidential opponents as well, touting his own military experience -- saying he was drafted in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 -- and mentioning that where his rivals' biggest donors were often big business, active members of the military make up a large share of Paul's own donations.
Paul didn't dig too much into issues specific to Alaska in his speech, instead opting to riff on the key points of his campaign.
He did say in a press availability following his speech that he supports opening federal land to lease sales for oil and gas, and doesn't think it's fair in a free market to subsidize one form of energy -- like ethanol or solar power -- without providing the same kind of benefits to other, more traditional sources of energy like oil and gas.
Perhaps Paul's biggest talking point, and the reason he seems to unite tea partiers and Occupy Wall Streeters alike, came toward the end of his speech in Anchorage.
"When government grows, the people's liberty shrinks," he said.
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com