PHILADELPHIA — They are crusty Iowa farmers enticed by doing away with the income tax, libertarian-minded college students in heavy-metal band T-shirts, antiwar Republicans looking for a champion, and folks worried about the Federal Reserve Board and paper money.
They say they are the disaffected in politics, and this year they are finding a political home with Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas who is shaking up the Republican presidential contest with phenomenal fundraising and the potential to convert that into enough votes to be a spoiler come January.
Even without the fife-and-drum players, they are the loudest of crowds. Even without the "Don't Tread on Me" flags and cloak-and-mask movie costumes, they are the most colorful. And Mr. Paul's supporters certainly are the most suspicious of the political process.
"I don't want to sound like one of these nut cases, there are probably some of them here," said Tom Levins, waving his arm toward 2,000 fellow supporters rallying with Mr. Paul on Nov. 10 in Philadelphia. "But you have to wonder about the establishment. I've had it cross my mind, could he be the next political person knocked off?"
For Mr. Levins and other supporters, Mr. Paul is more than just a choice on the Republican primary ballot. He is talismanic, a 72-year-old 10-term congressman who transcends partisan politics. For them, he's the man who can restore the Constitution, end the Iraq war, bring back the gold standard for money and stop an erosion of civil rights.
Before his political career, Mr. Paul was a doctor — first an Air Force flight surgeon and later an obstetrician — and his frequent votes against spending bills and ever-expanding federal programs earned him the nickname "Dr. No." He also was the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 1988, running a distant third.
His supporters cheer his willingness to stand up to institutions of power, and his recent tussle with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke at a congressional hearing has become a cult hit among the candidate's supporters on YouTube.
"It's not about the issues, it's about the Constitution," said Michael Hamme, one of the rally-goers. "Basically, as I see it, we're run by the Federal Reserve system, which is actually not legal."