Chances are you've already driven past longshot Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's Portland grassroots campaign.
Since July, his supporters have camped out at three Portland roadside locations. Last week, WW stopped by one of those sites—near the east end of the Vista Ridge Tunnel, where evening rush-hour motorists could see 15 Paul supporters holding signs and waving American flags. Most motorists whizzed past, though there was an occasional driver flipping the bird.
With polls giving Paul only 3 percent of the Republican vote—and with the candidate collecting about one-fifteenth of fellow Republican candidate Mitt Romney's $44 million in donations—Paul's campaign is unlikely to be a threat for the GOP nomination in 2008.
But the Texas congressman's political stance against most federal spending and overseas military engagements has won over enough disaffected Democrats, ex-Greens and loyal Republicans under one banner to meet Wednesdays at the Vista Ridge Tunnel location. They also gather at Interstate 205 at Southeast Stark Street on Tuesdays, and at Interstate 5 and Rosa Parks Way on Thursdays.
"This is really not a campaign, it's more about people who share the same values finding each other," says Karl Huber, 66, a Ralph Nader supporter in the 2000 election. He's now a Paul organizer because of Paul's hard-line economic stance against government borrowing.
The rallies, dubbed "banner brigades" by Paul supporters, are organized almost exclusively via Meetup.com.
"It's the beginning of the end of mass-media TV politics," says Kari Chisholm, head of Mandate Media, a local Web-campaign consultant group that works for Democratic candidates such as Kate Brown and Jeff Merkley. "Major market advertising is being replaced by grassroots organizing," says Chisholm, who's unconnected to the Paul campaign.
Armed with signs reading, "Dr. Ron Paul Cured My Apathy" and "Ron Paul Revolution," supporters at the banner brigade denounced traditional party politics, as well as traditional politicians.
"The Democrat-Republican paradigm is a bunch of shit," says former Bush backer Doug Youngman, 40, an advertiser of apartments online and lead organizer of the Sunset Highway brigade outside the tunnel.
Paul's outsider stance on the Bush administration's war on terrorism (Paul has called the 9/11 attacks "blowback"), the Iraq war (he's in favor of an immediate pullout) and the Patriot Act (he's against it) has made strange bedfellows among Paul's Portland Meetup groups—literally.
Manuel Bookwalter met his girlfriend, Nadia Kramareva, at the first Ron Paul Meetup event in a brewpub on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard in June.
"When a couple has the same political leanings…that's good chemistry right there," says Bookwalter, 29. Kramareva, a 21-year-old Russian immigrant, says she wants to apply for U.S. citizenship so she can cast her first vote for Paul.
Even as Paul's banner brigade went mostly unnoticed by the stream of cars rushing past and though his odds are long in a crowded Republican primary, his supporters remain devoted to their man for president.
"Who cares if he wins," Youngman says. "It's the message that matters."