It's hard to imagine a more appropriate location for last weekend's Ron Paul rally than Independence Mall.
The National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall provided the inspiration for his political beliefs; the nearby U.S. Mint and Federal Reserve branch, he wants to do away with.
U.S. Representative Paul (R-Texas) is running for the Republican presidential nomination on a platform of restoring the country to the values of the Constitution and founding fathers. Specifically, he wants to pull troops out of Iraq, repeal the income tax, abolish the Federal Reserve and put America back on the gold standard.
It's those views that make him the Republican Party's most radical candidate; they are also beliefs that have made Paul an icon for many college-aged voters.
Paul, who has served on and off in Congress for the last 30 years, garnered national headlines Nov. 5 when supporters raised more than $4.3 million for his campaign in a single day.
College students have served as Paul's base of support, as evidenced by a contingent of Penn students who went to join a crowd of over 5,000 other supporters to cheer and chant their candidate's name at the Independence Mall rally, held on Saturday. Students at the rally said they were attracted to Paul's campaign because they believe the country has strayed too far from its founding principles.
College sophomore Michelle Potter, president of the group Penn Students for Ron Paul, said her group has drawn students of all political stripes, ranging from Libertarians to Democrats. And likely as a result of Paul's popularity, libertarianism is also seeing a resurgence on college campuses.
"There are people who call themselves a Democrat or a Republican just because they don't really know what's out there," Potter said. "Until it's been presented to them as a candidate, it's never been an option."
Several Libertarian student groups have sprung up on campuses over the past few years. Penn, Drexel, Temple, Harvard and Columbia universities, among others, all have newly formed libertarian groups. There is also a libertarian conference being held for college students at Columbia this spring.
"When I first got to Penn, I was surprised that there wasn't any type of libertarian group," said Penn Libertarians President and College senior Alex McCobin. "I got the idea, hey, if no one else is, why don't I step up and do something?"
The group was founded in spring 2006, and now has about 150 students on its listserv.
Nationally, libertarian viewpoints also seem to be gaining supporters. According to Gallup poll results analyzed last fall by the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think-tank, about 10 to 15 percent of Americans gave answers to policy questions indicating they held libertarian beliefs.
"I'm actually a former Republican and about a year ago this time I was defecting from the Republican platform issue by issue, and I embraced libertarianism," said Ryan Kuchinskas, the president of the Temple Libertarians.
David Karpf, a Penn political science Ph.D. candidate studying the Internet's impact on elections, said that the Paul campaign has used the Web to attract students, with communities of Paul activists recently springing up on sites like YouTube.com and Facebook.
On Facebook, Ron Paul is the leading Republican candidate, with 34 percent support from Republicans using the U.S. Politics Facebook application.
In an ABC News Poll, on the other hand, he has three-percent support.
Karpf said that those who have followed Paul are mostly Republicans who identify with Paul's criticisms of President Bush.
"Bush is at [about] 30-percent popularity, and there's an awful lot of Republicans who don't like him," Karpf said, adding that, sice no other Republican candidate has openly attacked the president, Paul has managed to tap into that dislike.
"Every election cycle you get that kind of one or two percenter that gets his position out there," Karpf said.
Student supporters say Paul's principles have drawn them away from the traditional parties.
"I think most students, if they really knew what libertarianism was, they would realize they were a libertarian," said College sophomore Anne Skuza, a Libertarian who said she was previously a Republican. "Free markets and keep the government out of people's lives."
© 2007 Daily Pennsylvanian via U-WIRE