FARGO – The conservative principles of limited government and personal liberty dominated Ron Paul‘s address to enthusiastic caucus-goers here tonight.
The GOP presidential candidate rallied Republican voters for 20 minutes, while setting his sights on a statewide victory tonight in the North Dakota caucuses.
“The government is designed to protect our liberties and nothing else,” Paul said to a roar of cheers, whistles and applause from hundreds gathered at the Ramada Plaza Suites.
In his address, Paul touched on the economy, foreign wars and federal spending – all the while advocating for less power in the federal government and oozing American patriotism.
“We need much more openness of government and much more protection of our privacy,” Paul said. “Those who accuse us of going backwards are going backwards toward tyranny and we don’t need to go in that direction. Thank you for joining me tonight in that effort to restore liberty.”
Paul, a conservative libertarian, said both the Democratic and Republican parties are to blame for the nation’s fiscal problems. If elected, Paul said in his first year in office, he would “cut the budget in real terms by $1 trillion.”
“I’m optimistic to believe we can turn this around but we have to cut the spending,” Paul said.
Immediately after his speech, Paul boarded a flight to return to his home state of Texas. GOP officials originally expected the candidate to stay in Fargo as the results came in.
Paul took more than twice the amount of time to speak than supporters for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who were given only 10 minutes total to lobby for their chosen candidate before Paul took the stage.
After Paul’s speech, North Dakota Republican Party Executive Director Anthony Reedy explained that they’d asked Paul to keep it short, but “we were hesitant to cut him off.”
“If any of the other presidential candidates had come here, we would’ve shown them the same respect,” Reedy said.
Audience-members – the majority of whom passionately supported Paul – booed the Romney and Santorum speakers and drowned them out at times by talking over them.
The show of disrespect prompted Paul’s deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari to ask the crowd to “be polite” to the other speakers and let them have their say.
Some caucus-goers came as far from Lisbon and Grand Forks to vote and hear Paul speak, rather than vote in their home districts, NDGOP Chairman Stan Stein said.
Casselton resident Kirk Rosin cast his caucus vote for Santorum, saying he was committed after the candidate’s visit to Fargo last month.
“I really felt his values and his positions matched what I felt was important,” Rosin said, referencing Santorum’s social conservatism.
North Dakota State University students Davin Loegering, Zechariah Andersen and Benjamin Bechtold were among the youth supporters out in force to vote for Paul in Fargo.
Loegering said he liked Paul’s libertarian proposals and his dedication to adhering to the U.S. Constitution.
“A lot of his ideas seem radical but it’s at a time when radical ideas are needed,” Loegering said.
A victory in North Dakota would be the first for Paul in the primary race. If that’s indeed the outcome, Andersen said the victory would “definitely put more confidence in the general public that he can win.”
Loegering said so far Paul has been “a footnote” in the national media behind the more prominent frontrunners, Romney and Santorum.
He said a North Dakota victory would be an “eye-opener” for the rest of the country about Paul’s ability to unseat Democratic President Barack Obama in November.
Inside the caucus room, the 10 Fargo-area districts remained busy this evening with a consistent stream of voters. After each ballot was submitted, voters were required to press their thumbs on an ink pad, which would prevent them from casting more than one ballot.
Voting for the North Dakota caucuses closes at 8 p.m. central time – however, because of the time zones, some western districts will finish voting at 9 p.m. central.
Results were expected to begin flowing in after 8:30 p.m. Stein will announce the caucus winner later tonight.
7:20 p.m., updated 7:40 p.m. and 7:55 p.m.