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Paul not allowed to address GOP convention

By Don Davis

St. Paul Capitol Bureau

ROCHESTER, Minn. - Minnesota Republican officials would not allow maverick Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul to speak to their state convention, which began this morning, but he attracted about 400 spectators for an early-morning speech in a park outside the convention hall.

"What is going on in your Republican Party?" Paul asked. "Haven't they figured it out that we are on the wrong track?"

Paul delivered a 39-minute speech urging Republicans to return to their smaller-government, Ronald Reagan philosophy. The Texas congressman and medical doctor admitted he cannot beat Arizona Sen. John McCain in the presidential contest, but said it is important to deliver his message.

"The freedom revolution, which will continue for a long time to come," Paul said. "There is every reason to be encouraged; we have the rightness on our side."

Many in the 7:30 a.m. audience appeared to be there only to observe, but others carried Paul signs and wore buttons. After his speech, he greeted a few Republicans, then headed to a Missouri appearance.

The convention is scheduled to endorse U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman for a second term today, and elect national convention delegates and conduct other business through Saturday afternoon.

GOP spokesman Mark Drake said Paul might be welcome to speak to convention-goers if he would drop out of the race and support McCain, who has enough national convention delegates to win the nomination early in September in St. Paul.

"We had a process," Drake said.

Drake also said that despite Paul's claim to support Reagan policies, he opposed Reagan as a Libertarian.

Paul's Minnesota coordinator, Marianne Stebbins, agreed with the candidate that he cannot win the nomination. However, she said he needed to be like Barry Goldwater, who lost the presidential election in 1964. Goldwater, she said, moved the Republican Party to the political right for years after his loss.

"We have been plummeting to the left," Stebbins said.

While Paul supporters have tried to take over some state conventions, Stebbins said the candidate's speech was the main attraction in Rochester.

"We're not making a big deal out of it," she said. "It probably already has accomplished what we wanted."

Convention delegate Bill Jungbauer of West St. Paul joined other Paul supporters in opposing Republican officials' decision to keep the candidate off the stage.

"I'm disgusted to see a 10-term U.S. congressman having to speak in the park," he said from the crowd outside the Mayo Civic Center.

Paul said he was proud to have been the lone vote against issues more than 300 times while in the U.S. House.

"I have looked at it as a long-term process to try to set an example," he said.

One of his goals is to "change the party," he said during a speech laced with humor.

Paul said that too often the federal government ignores the constitution. If that document had been followed, he added, the country would not be in the Iraq war.

Knowing he was in the middle of farm country, Paul said that the federal government should abandon subsidies.

"Farmers could do a lot better without the government," he said, citing tobacco farmers, who were cut off from federal payments four years ago and today are making more money. "Markets do work."

"Just compare the delivery of medical care to the distribution of cell phones," he said, indicating that had government been responsible for getting cell phones to people, it would not have operated as smoothly as private businesses.

Convention delegate Tony Sheda of Carlton County, who attended the Paul speech, did not count himself a supporter of the congressman, but said he also is disappointed with McCain.

"I'm hoping that he gets the message and becomes a Republican again," Sheda said of McCain.

Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.