BANGOR, Maine — Declaring the “freedom movement alive and well,” Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul kicked off a two-day statewide tour in Bangor on Friday with the hope of convincing enough delegates to support him at Maine’s caucuses, which begin next weekend.
Paul, the 76-year-old congressman from Texas, is the only current GOP candidate who has yet to win a state’s primary or caucus, but he plans to rack up delegates in many states including Maine.
“We came where the action is, in Maine,” he said to raucous applause from about 300 people packed inside the Union Street Brick Church in downtown Bangor. “We came to get delegates and that’s the name of the game. That’s how you win elections.
“We deal in ideas and very important ideas, but I’ve also discovered that the best way to promote ideas is to win elections, too.”
During a 30-minute speech, Paul touched on a number of his campaign themes including personal freedoms, limited government and ending U.S. involvement in foreign wars.
Paul talked about his intention to cut $1 trillion in federal spending his first year in office.
“Nobody is talking about real cuts. People have to decide what we’re going to put up with in Washington. I don’t want to be the policemen of the world,” he said.
He reiterated his plan to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education.
“There is no explicit authority for the federal government to be running public education, therefore we shouldn’t even have a department of education,” he said.
He stressed his preference to repeal the Patriot Act and his opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act.
“The Internet is the weapon of liberty as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
He also said he thinks airport security scanners are a government overreach in the wake of Sept. 11.
“These are illegal, unconstitutional searches of our bodies where it doesn’t make us any safer whatsoever,” he said. “That we need to change.”
After his remarks, Paul posed for pictures with a number of supporters but did not field questions.
Paul is the only candidate to visit Maine so far in 2012. The main GOP candidates — Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum — are focused on Florida, which holds its primary Tuesday.
Maine has 24 statewide delegates compared to Florida’s 50. But Florida’s primary is winner-take-all whereas Maine’s caucuses can allow for delegates to be split. That’s where Paul sees an edge.
Paul Madore, the Maine campaign director for Paul, said there is a lot of energy for his candidate in Maine and he thinks the congressman can win here.
Paul didn’t mention any of his GOP opponents and only briefly mentioned President Barack Obama but he said he is in the race for the long haul even if the media isn’t giving him much credit.
“They want us to go away but they don’t want to offend us, now how are they going to manage that?” he said. “Let’s say we’ll hang around for a while longer.”
In 2008, Paul and Romney were both on Maine’s caucus ballot along with John McCain, the eventual nominee. Romney took 51 percent of a straw poll vote, followed by McCain at 21 percent and Paul with 18 percent.
Like most states, Paul seems to have dedicated and fervent support in Maine but no natural constituency. Those who attended the Bangor event were a mix of young and old.
Kevin Kneeland, 54, of Charleston, said Paul is the only GOP candidate with any real ideas for change.
“He doesn’t represent the status quo,” Kneeland said. “He believes in personal freedoms. Freedom of choice. Freedom to live.”
Alba Briggs, 21, of Lubec, said Paul’s commitment to bringing down the national debt resonates with him and a lot of others in his age group.
“That debt is mine and I’m going to be the one paying higher taxes to address it,” he said.
Paul was scheduled to appear at Colby College in Waterville and at a hotel in Lewiston later Friday. The congressman also has three events planned for Saturday, at University of Southern Maine in Gorham, Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen and Topside Tavern in Freeport and at the town hall in Alfred.