RICHLAND — Shortly after Ron Paul finished speaking in Richland on Friday, a grizzled looking man in a T-shirt supporting the presidential hopeful ran through the Red Lion Hanford House ballroom shouting excitedly and pumping his fist in the air.
"He signed my delegate card!" said Captain Eneas, a Paul supporter who lives in White Swan.
The reaction Paul's appearance elicited from supporters on Friday was more like a rock star than a politician.
About 1,500 people turned out at the hotel to see him -- filling the main ballroom, which has a capacity of about 650 people, and spilling out into the Red Lion's lobby and hallways.
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At one point, a fire marshal instructed the campaign to thin out the crowd in the ballroom so people could get through the aisles in case of an emergency.
For the hour leading up to his taking the stage, the crowd chanted his name and campaign slogans like "End the Fed" -- prompting Paul himself later to joke, "You're stealing my lines now."
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, although the Christian Science Monitor reported Friday that Paul may yet turn out to be the winner of Maine's Feb. 11 Republican caucus.
For now, his campaign is focusing on Washington's March 3 Republican caucus, and he made a four-city sweep through the state Thursday and Friday to drum up support.
In Richland on Friday, a blue jeans-clad Paul spoke for about 45 minutes on a central theme of returning to the rights and principles in the U.S. Constitution, which he said he believes is the best way to ensure freedom, peace and prosperity for Americans.
He stopped to give a shortened version of his speech to the people outside before leaving for events in Idaho and Spokane later in the day.
He said if elected, he would abolish policies and government departments he considers unconstitutional -- the Federal Reserve System, the Department of Education and the Department of Energy, which oversees Hanford cleanup -- all to cheers of approval from the crowd.
He said government has grown since the establishment of the Federal Reserve and paper currency -- a system he described as a "failure."
"Our founders knew and tried to prevent it. They only allowed gold and silver as legal tender," he said.
Paul said as president he would cut federal spending by $1 trillion and work to restore civil liberties eroded by the Patriot Act and personal property rights.
"What we need is more freedom, more liberty, more understanding of economic property and more understanding of property rights," he said.
His supporters include Eltopia farmer Clint Didier, a retired professional football player and former U.S. Senate candidate, who introduced Paul to the Richland audience. To them, Paul is more than a politician, despite having collectively served about 23 years in Congress in three stints since 1976.
Self-described "Paulites" see him as a straight-shooting truth-speaker who stands for his principles in a way they believe no other politician does.
"He speaks the truth. He's honest. That's it," Eneas told the Herald about why he has supported Paul since 2007.