ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
One of the aims here, at this convention - as at every convention - is to generate enthusiasm among the party faithful, for the ticket. And one person who really does very well in the enthusiasm department, will not be speaking. Ron Paul turned down an invitation to address the convention because it required his full-throated endorsement of the ticket, and it also required his remarks being vetted by the Republican National Committee.
But if you are looking for enthusiasm in this city, look no farther than the Ron Paul camp.
(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)
AIMEE ALLEN: Good morning, America!
ALLEN: Wake up!
SIEGEL: This was the scene at the Sun Dome, on the campus of the University of South Florida. Singer-songwriter Aimee Allen was rocking the house with a lyric that rhymed "starting a revolution" with "breaking down illegal institutions." A near-capacity crowd in the 10,000-seat arena joined her, roaring the refrain: Ron Paul.
(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)
ALLEN: (Singing) We're not going to give up the fight.
UNIDENTIFIED RALLY ATTENDEES: Ron Paul!
ALLEN: (Singing) Start a revolution, and break down illegal institutions...
SIEGEL: Ron Paul is technically still a candidate. At this rally yesterday - the We Are the Future rally - he sounded as unreconciled to Mitt Romney's nomination as at any time during the primary season. His supporters from around the country have converged on Tampa, and their most obvious claim to the future is their youth. While there are plenty of middle-aged folks in this nearly all-white crowd, the Paul camp seems to be dominated by 20- and 30-somethings. When Ron Paul was introduced by his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the crowd broke into a chant about the future.
UNIDENTIFIED RALLY ATTENDEES: Paul, '16! Paul, '16!
SIEGEL: Paul, '16 - meaning 2016.
UNIDENTIFIED RALLY ATTENDEES: Paul, '16! Paul, '16!
SIEGEL: Paul delegates assured me that doesn't mean re-elect Rand Paul to the Senate in four years. It means Rand Paul for president. Ron Paul spoke for over an hour at this rally, and thousands of his followers were on their feet for every word.
REP. RON PAUL: Yes. We want you to have your freedom. We want you to make your own choices, and we're not going to tell you that you can't make bad choices. People say well, doesn't that mean you endorse it? What if people drink too much, or smoke too much, in making their own choices? Well, there's one rule. They have to assume the consequences of their actions - totally and completely.
SIEGEL: Some of the big applause lines? Audit the Federal Reserve at least - at best, end it. Abolish the Transportation Security Administration and its humiliating airport searches. Restore the gold standard. Legalize marijuana.
SIEGEL: Julian Assange - of WikiLeaks - and Bradley Manning - the soldier accused of leaking documents to him - are heroes to this crowd. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, draw loud boos.
A central plank of the Paul platform is bring the troops home - not just from foreign wars, but from what he sees as provocative bases overseas.
PAUL: Somebody - rather nastily - said the other day on the Internet - they said, oh, yeah, if those Paul peoples had been in charge, Osama bin Laden would still be alive.
PAUL: But you know what I think the answer is? So would the 3,000 people from 9/11, be alive.
SIEGEL: Dozens of Paul supporters at the rally wore light-green T-shirts designating them as convention volunteers for Ron Paul. I asked six of them what they thought about Mitt Romney. The answers ranged from a shrug of indifference, to expressions of outright contempt. They are not about to fall in behind the GOP ticket. As Ron Paul said in his speech to the rally, his supporters throughout the primary campaign were both inside the Republican Party, and outside it.
PAUL: So in this primary, we had close to 2 million votes. They said, oh, it's 2 million. Two million votes? That doesn't swing an election, da, da, da. You know - it's no big deal. But guess what? For every vote that we got in the primary, let me tell you - just from my personal experience of traveling around the country, and meeting people at airports and wherever. The support out there is much, much greater, and they don't feel comfortable coming to a Republican primary. So the support there, I would say - it'd be two or three times as much as the number of votes we got in the primary.
SIEGEL: Some young Ron Paul supporters do feel comfortable within the Republican Party; 22-year-old Thomas Bowling, for one. He's a Massachusetts delegate.
THOMAS BOWLING: I am technically a Mitt Romney delegate, and I'm proud to be a Mitt Romney delegate. I did support Ron Paul in the primary. He would have been my first choice. I think it would be really beneficial for Mitt Romney to cater to the sort of libertarian wing of the Republican Party - because that's what we are. We are not outsiders. We're part of the party. We're here to stay.
SIEGEL: But some of the Paul delegates I met last night express a profound commitment to his ideas, and only conditional commitment to the GOP.
(SOUNDBITE OF RESTAURANT PARTY)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) Down with Big Brother.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD MEMBERS: (Singing) Down with Big Brother.
SIEGEL: This was at a big Ron Paul party after the rally, at Whiskey Joe's restaurant in Tampa. Here's part of the problem between the Paul camp and the Romney campaign: Ron Paul, for all the enthusiasm he generated in the caucuses and primaries, didn't win enough states to be guaranteed that his name would be placed in nomination. The Paul delegates feel that the Romney camp blocked them from getting close, by contesting some of their delegates in Maine and then prevailing at the Credentials Committee.
Ron Paul supporters feel deprived of a Paul speech and a demonstration of support. There are reports that the California delegation is on alert to drown out Paul delegates who might get vocal on the floor this week. Ron Paul delegate Ben Barringer - from Elk River, Minnesota - says he'd rather see a different approach from Romney.
BEN BARRINGER: I think if Mitt Romney came out in vocal support of seating some of the delegates, I think that would go a long ways toward mending the bridges. I think there's a lot of hard feelings over delegates that feel that they were duly elected; that we're not seated at the convention now, in the Credentials Committee.
SIEGEL: Barringer's fellow Minnesota delegate, pastor Kevin Erickson - of Mountain Iron, Minnesota - says Ron Paul is right to have withheld his endorsement of the GOP ticket.
PASTOR KEVIN ERICKSON: Ron has never ceased his campaign, despite media reports to the contrary. And the truth of the matter is, is that while he's not going to - in all likelihood - receive the nomination, the fact is, we have an opportunity to put these principles out there - which five years ago, the idea of auditing the Fed basically identified you as somebody wearing a tinfoil hat. Now, it's passed the House of Representatives. So the wisdom of that strategy of continuing to pound the principles regardless of the personality, is what American politics desperately needs.
SIEGEL: All of which raises the question of whether at least some of this enthusiasm, this sense of urgency, can rub off on the Romney-Ryan campaign. It is a very tough fit. The Paul supporters relish talk of revolution - even songs about it. The Romney campaign promises better management. In politics, a gulf doesn't get much bigger than that.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Our co-host Robert Siegel, reporting this week from the Republican convention in Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.