Ron Paul campaign volunteer Melinda Reffalt once was a self-described "dyed in the wool Democrat."
But the Benton City woman split ways with the party as it appeared to her that Democrats were drifting toward socialist policies through the years.
Nowadays, Paul is the candidate who comes closest to her beliefs in fiscal conservatism, a constitutional republic and small government.
"I've been a Ron Paul supporter since before it was cool," she said. "I heard about him years ago."
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Reffalt and numerous other Tri-City supporters are buzzing with excitement at getting the chance to see Paul in person at a town hall meeting in Richland on Friday.
Doors at the Red Lion Hanford House in Richland open at 11 a.m., and Paul is scheduled to appear at noon before hitting the campaign trail to Spokane for an event later that night, according to his campaign website.
The free event is open to everyone.
Paul is one of a dwindling field of contenders for the Republican presidential nomination this year. Unlike fellow Republicans Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Paul has yet to win a primary or caucus but his campaign appears to be hoping to change the tide with Washington's March 3 Republican caucuses.
Paul, a Texas congressman, is making a four-city swing through the state starting today in Vancouver and Sea-Tac before heading east Friday.
"I like his commitment to his oath of office and upholding the Constitution and returning us to the constitutional republic we're supposed to be," Reffalt said.
In particular, Reffalt said she likes what Paul has to say about reinforcing the freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights -- particularly the First and Second amendments.
"I believe our Founding Fathers put those in place to protect the people from the government instead of protecting the government in general," she said.
She said the federal government has been chipping away at the Bill of Rights in recent years in a way that violates the spirit of freedom on which the United States was founded.
"I think that earthquake they had back East was the founding fathers spinning in their graves," she joked.
Leon Howard, coordinator for the Tri-Cities Tea Party, said he has been a Paul supporter for many years and looks forward to attending the town hall on Friday.
"I think of all the candidates on both sides of the aisle, he is the only one who understands the Constitution and its original intent," said Howard, who lives in West Richland. "That draws me like a magnet."
Howard also appreciates Paul's thoughts on foreign policy -- particularly that as the United States realigns its military, that overseas bases should be closed before those at home.
"I'm with Dr. Paul on that issue. They're for defense, not offense," Howard said.
He also thinks Paul is the candidate who can get the economy moving again following a deep recession and lengthy recovery.
"There's no candidate out there (who is) perfect, but I think if he were elected, we could see the country start being very prosperous again because he would reduce the size of government and get it out of the way of business so it can grow," Howard said.
Washington Republicans will get their chance at choosing a presidential nominee during statewide caucuses March 3.
Here is the schedule:
-- Benton County caucuses will start at 10 a.m. at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick, The Barn in Prosser and Paterson School in Paterson. Benton residents can go to www.bentoncountygop.com to find locations for their precincts.
-- Franklin County caucuses will be 10 a.m. to noon in Pasco, Basin City and Connell. Participants should bring a pen or pencil and plan to arrive about 30 minutes early to register.
Residents can call the Franklin County Republican Central Committee at 723-4581 to find caucus locations for their precincts.
-- Yakima County Republicans will have caucuses in several locations in Yakima, Selah, Naches, Toppenish, Sunnyside and Moxee. Call Republican headquarters at 509-972-0631 for information or go to www.yakimacountyrepublicans.org for locations for each precinct.