South Florida art-house bar patrons pull for Ron Paul

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, left, and his wife Carol Paul, center, appear on stage with members of their family during his South Carolina presidential primary election night rally in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Jan., 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, left, and his wife Carol Paul, center, appear on stage with members of their family during his South Carolina presidential primary election night rally in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Jan., 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (AP)
Posted: January 24, 2012

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - The night of the South Carolina primary, Kevin Rouse, a lifelong Republican, was having a blast, celebrating his birthday with friends at his art-house bar here.

The following morning, with Rouse's blessing, his friends posted a massive banner covering the entire side of the building: RON PAUL FOR PRESIDENT.

"I don't think he's going to win, but I think he's good to support," explained Rouse, as he finished straightening out the umbrellaed wrought-iron patio tables after his blowout party.

For months, he has opened his bar and grounds to Paul's 60 or so supporters in this seaside South Florida town. They gather here to hold rallies and watch debates, cheering for their underdog candidate.

Many are older than the college-age volunteers who helped Paul in Iowa and New Hampshire. The birthday Rouse celebrated Saturday night was his 50th.

The crowd at his bar includes artists, small businessmen, accountants, filmmakers, lawyers, and one sun-toasted boat captain who regularly takes five-mile ocean swims, even when the water is thick with jellyfish.

"Kevro," as Rouse is known around here, says "Ron Paul has gotten the short end of the stick."

Rouse's more politically passionate business and life partner, Debbie Sullivan, puts it more sharply. "The media bias is just so disheartening. Even my beloved Fox News Channel has done a terrible job - it's so evident they're trying to block him out," she says. "But I smell a revolution."

Their bar is a stark white cement block, set in a parched field at the far end of town. As evidence of the group's diversity, Sullivan says, "During the debate parties, the cars parked outside include construction trucks, Bentleys, a Ferrari, a Gem electric car, and bicycles."

It is a group of voters who value honesty and pluck, Rouse says, and only tolerate the kind of flip-flops that are worn on bare feet.

"Ron Paul is consistent in his positions," says Rouse, who speaks with the laid-back RPM of a blues singer and cultivates the parrot-head look - baggy shorts, aviator shades and a paintbrush of a ponytail dipping to his shoulder blades.

Inspired by the skinny, plain-speaking Texas libertarian, these Paul-ites still hold out hope for the guy who continues to plow ahead in his campaign, unfazed by poor polling numbers, worse long-term odds and constant disrespect from the establishment. Though Paul isn't stumping here for next Tuesday's primary, he's taking part in both Florida debates and aiming his efforts at Nevada and other forthcoming contests.

"I'm sure he's not going to drop out," says Rouse. "Over the past few days, checks have come in for $10,000 and more from wealthy donors."

Personally, Rouse says, he views the Texas congressman's proposals as the first offer in a used-car negotiation. The wish list: cut a trillion dollars from the federal budget, eliminate the Departments of Interior, Commerce, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development, kill the income tax and the Federal Reserve, repeal the Brady Bill, nullify Roe v. Wade, slash foreign aid, withdraw from the United Nations. Yeah, he says, it's a little extreme.

"But you start low and the dealer starts high. Ron Paul knows eventually he'd have to compromise to meet the general consensus."

Realistically, Rouse says, he can't imagine Paul in the Oval office. "He might not make the best president. It would be like running into a brick wall every time he turned around."

What he hopes, though, is that Paul's message - and his supporters' clamoring to make sure that message is heard - will pry open the closed minds in both parties.

Rouse, who says he is distantly related to the Philadelphia developers of the same name, has dabbled in local politics, serving on boards that managed public art and economic development projects, and working with groups that help the underprivileged become more self-reliant.

He votes for candidates, not parties, he says. He voted for Ross Perot, and if the Democrats had nominated Hillary Clinton in 2008, she would have had his vote, too.

Forced to choose between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, he says, "I suppose I'd rather have Gingrich. "He's so good in front of that camera. There's something about the packaging there. He's so confident and witty. And he must have a fantastic memory."

For now, he and his friends are sticking with their candidate. They didn't hold a party for Monday night's Tampa debate - he and Sullivan were taking a night at a hotel to continue the birthday celebration - but more hand-painted Ron Paul For President banners have arrived, and will always be welcome, he says.

"I've donated my walls to give people a little hope about what might happen. There's nothing like a little hope."


Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215 854 2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.

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