Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 | 4:53 a.m.
TAMPA, Fla. — Sunday may have been the unofficial kickoff for the Republican National Convention. But for the bulk of Nevada’s delegation, Sunday felt more like a graduation ceremony.
While most RNC delegates gathered for a welcoming celebration in St. Petersburg, Ron Paul fans filled Tampa’s Sun Dome stadium Sunday for a marathon session of speeches and testimonials about their candidate, who closed the rally with the speech that will probably go down as his swan song.
“We see the end of an era,” Paul told supporters in a nearly hour-long speech. “The really big question that I think we have to decide upon is which way are we going to go?”
The movement Ron Paul spawned is coming to a moment of reckoning. Though his loyal foot soldiers are using petitions and every RNC rule at their disposal to try to prolong the era of Paul, they are also struggling with how to refocus their efforts once the movement’s leader moves on.
“We are now moving into a new era,” Paul said in his speech. “A new era where we are going to concentrate on liberty, freedom, property and peace. That is the cause as I think it should be.”
Before Paul closed the rally, those who may get the chance to carry the mantle forward had a chance to audition before the crowd.
South Carolina’s Tom Davis got the biggest cheers when he called Ben Bernanke a “traitor.”
Rep. Justin Amash spoke to the crowd about “tomorrow’s GOP” and his close kinship in Congress with Paul.
But it was Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was clearly passed the torch. He introduced his father and was featured in videos describing him as the “only” person equipped to carry the liberty message forward.
Still, the movement’s members are divided over how they feel about the younger Paul. His endorsement of Mitt Romney has soured some Nevada delegates, who wouldn’t clap for him when he took the stage.
That disunity puts more pressure on local chapters of Paul supporters to decide how to keep things going.
Local Paul surrogates, including Nevada’s Carl Bunce, offered plenty of advice. Bunce, who chaired Paul’s Nevada campaign, told the crowd he had “a crystal ball” about the movement’s future based on Nevada’s past.
“Find common ground with others or you will never get to where you want to be,” Bunce said, though his evidence for how successful the Paul movement has been in Nevada didn’t necessarily match up with his advice. “The liberty movement has become so dominant in Nevada that the establishment has just rolled up their tents and started their own status.”
Trust vis-à-vis the Romney campaign is at such a nadir that Nevada’s Ron Paul supporters were planning to brave the gale force winds of Hurricane Isaac Monday to attend the five-minute pro forma RNC session Monday, just to make sure there’s no funny business.
They explain that keeping up the fight, full force, until there’s nothing left to fight for at the RNC is part of keeping the movement alive.
“We idolized him … some will now drop out, of course. Some will be discouraged. Some will become inactive,” Cindy Lake said. “If we don’t fight … in four years there won’t be any of us.
“[The rally] was important, to keep us all motivated and keep us on task,” she said.
While it may not yield them a convention victory, the rally did appear at least to have struck a nerve with the next generation.
“I was feeling what America must have felt when the founding fathers did what they were doing. Discussing the issues, discussing the ideas of freedom,” Wizelet Rouzard, a 26-year-old Nevada delegate. “It was rejuvenating.”