MANCHESTER, N.H. -- In 2008, Ron Paul came out of the Republican primaries with just 6.5 percent support nationally. Now, just four years later, he has more than 12 percent support nationally and broke 20 percent in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
His meteoric rise in the polls has brought him in from the fringe of the Republican Party, and while the party's establishment still fiercely opposes him, his support has grown beyond a tireless irate minority, as he put it in an appearance in South Carolina on Wednesday.
Interviews with New Hampshire voters on Tuesday gave a glimpse into the issues that drew these newcomers to a campaign that has been trying to gain mainstream support for its message since Paul first ran for president in 1988.
Most said they were initially drawn to one element of Paul's platform, but came to support the rest of it later.
'Painfully, Very Slowly'
One voter, James Kelley, said he supported Paul at first because he seemed like the only candidate who was serious about cutting taxes and spending. But as he researched Paul's platform, he found himself reconsidering his hawkish foreign-policy views.
Before him, I was basically like, nuke the Middle East and get it over with, Kelley said. I started hearing what he was saying, and painfully, very slowly, I was like, yeah, actually, it makes sense.
From listening to Paul, Kelley concluded that it was the United States' own interventionist foreign policy that posed the greatest threat to national security.
Initially, it [non-interventionism] didn't make any sense, because you keep hearing about all these threats and risks, he said. But pretty much every single conflict we've been in, we've somehow preceded it. We armed the mujahedeen to fight the Soviets, and then we fight them as the Taliban. We put [Fidel] Castro in power; we put Saddam Hussein in power.
For James Campbell, a veteran and a volunteer for Paul's New Hampshire campaign, the order was reversed: it was foreign policy that first attracted him to Paul, and he latched on to the economics later.
While deployed in Somalia in 1993, I saw firsthand the resentment and the fear that happens when you go in there and use a standing army as the enforcer, Campbell said. He was shot, received a Purple Heart, and was then deployed once again, this time to Bosnia. Once he came home, he recalled, I was kind of lost until I heard Ron Paul.
I went in for the foreign policy, the non-interventionism, he said. But from an economic standpoint, Ron Paul's plan is the only one that works.
A voter named Pat, who spent much of Tuesday holding Ron Paul signs outside a voting precinct in Manchester, had a similar experience, although he is not a veteran himself.
Last year I had a friend of mine who was killed in Afghanistan, and it really made me rethink my stance on foreign wars, he said. I was already on board with the domestic politics, cutting taxes, maximizing freedoms, but I didn't think about it the other way. I didn't think about what other people in other parts of the world think about U.S. troops, right or wrong, going over there.
Like, how would I feel if the Chinese sent a bunch of people over? he asked. Because right now I don't feel free. There are a lot of things that are restricted that I want to do. So what if the Chinese were like, 'Oh, we're going to liberate you'? I'd be pissed off.
The feeling Pat described, of not being free at home, was also a deciding factor for many voters, especially in light of recent events, like the extension of the Patriot Act in May and the passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act last month.
I'm afraid that just standing around on the corner holding a Ron Paul sign at some point in the future, for whoever the next Ron Paul is, could be a treasonable offense, Joe Domenico said while doing just that outside another voting precinct in Manchester.
Paul himself has expressed surprise at how quickly his movement has grown.
People have asked me, what did I expect five, 10 years ago? I had no idea, he told supporters at a primary-night celebration on Tuesday. I always assumed that the best I could do was set a record. I didn't know you were out there.
Five or 10 years ago, many of the supporters cheering for him at the Executive Court banquet hall in Manchester didn't know they were out there, either. But somehow, the pieces came together all at once to catapult Paul into the national spotlight after more than two decades of trying.
I'm probably unusual here in that I voted for Ron Paul in 1988, the first time he ran, voter Chuck Pike said. He's saying the same things he said back then, but a lot more people are listening.
It is difficult to pinpoint a single reason for that.
For one, I think the Internet enables information to get out. It can't be controlled by a few sources anymore, Pike said. Information is a lot more dispersed, people are a lot more savvy, and I think that helps a lot.
And many voters did come to Paul's campaign through the Internet. One, who gave her name as Allison, said she learned about Paul on Facebook, did some research online and was immediately attracted to his ideas.
As social media becomes more popular, we're finding out a lot more things than we could have in the past, she said.
'He's Been Proven Right'
Another factor was the economic crisis, which, according to Pike and many others, bolstered Paul's credibility because he predicted it years ago.
Since 2008, we've seen several events that have vindicated Dr. Paul's warnings, Jim Forsythe, a state senator from New Hampshire, said in his introduction to Paul's speech on Tuesday. We've seen massive spending. The deficit has quadrupled ... and we've seen the consequence of printing money like never before in history. We're starting to see the inflation of food and oil, stagnant wages -- we saw the bust in the housing bubble and all the suffering that's come with it, and all the economic downturn that he warned us about.
Because of this, many people who considered Paul's economic proposals extreme in 2008 are giving them a second look.
A lot of things that Ron was saying were going to happen have come to pass over time, so he's been proven right, Pike said. The neo-cons have also gotten really discredited in the Republican Party, and people are looking for an alternative, and Ron is on target.
Kelley acknowledged that it would be difficult to win over voters who are dead-set against Ron Paul, but he said his own experience tells him it's possible.
I was like, 'What? That's insane,' he recalled of his first time looking at Paul's foreign-policy proposals. But once the emotional charge defuses, it makes a lot of sense. Some people are extremely against him, but those people often chip away [at the issues] and say, 'OK.'
Once it clicks, it clicks.