TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Rep. Ron Paul, the plucky GOP presidential candidate yet to get fully behind Mitt Romney, lashed out Sunday at Republican efforts to marginalize his supporters at the upcoming party convention, telling a counter rally to stand firm because "we will become the tent eventually."
Appearing not far from where Romney will collect the Republican nomination, Paul used the rally to lecture a party he thinks is too willing to intervene abroad, too timid when it comes to combating a monetary policy he sees as misguided, and too lax about preserving civil liberties. His remarks were the perfect pitch to a friendly crowd of thousands, who stood the whole time he spoke.
"It made the paper in Washington that the revolution wasn't happening," the Texas Republican said. "Don't they only wish."
Paul ended active campaigning in June, but so far the libertarian-leaning politician hasn't endorsed Romney's candidacy. He told The New York Times for a story Sunday that he was denied a chance to speak because he refused to let the Romney campaign vet his remarks and give an unconditional endorsement.
In contrast to the stately scenery inside the Republican convention arena, the Paul rally had all the trappings of a rock concert: fog lamps, sweeping beams of colorful lights, music thumping with bass, free-flowing tap beer. Blues Traveler frontman John Popper performed ahead of Paul's remarks.
The University of South Florida college basketball arena was hardly full, but boisterous Paul fans erupted most times he was mentioned and wore shirts with his name and image; one shirt read "My President is Paul" and another said "Let Ron Paul Speak."
Paul joked that he was given a speaking slot on Monday night — when Tropical Storm Isaac was causing the GOP to postpone activities. "Just kidding," he assured.
He didn't win a single state but still amassed more than 175 delegates to the convention, several of whom got a standing ovation when they were introduced as a group at the Paul rally. On stage and among the audience, Paul backers chafed at the idea that their presence in Florida was an unwanted distraction at a convention focused on saluting Romney.
Paul's coalition is made up of anti-war Republicans, people who want stricter government adherence to the Constitution and those who want to dismantle the Federal Reserve, which sets American monetary policy.
His devoted following has caused strains in the convention lead-up. Late last week, Republican convention rule-makers advanced measures designed to blunt the Paul presence, including votes to dull the strength of his contingent in the Maine delegation and another to make it tougher for similar candidates to follow his path in the future.
Ashley Ryan, the young new Republican committeewoman from Maine, said procedural moves viewed as minimizing Paul's supporters would backfire on the GOP.
"Our party will go from being a big tent with many ideas to a small group at the mercy of a few insiders," Ryan said.
Paul carried on with the theme. ""Believe me, we will get in the tent because we will become the tent eventually," he said, adding, "With the energy that we have. It seems to me they would be begging and pleading for us to come into the party."
Tropical Storm Isaac disrupted the GOP schedule, yet planners retained a video tribute to Paul and a speaking role for his son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, moving both to Wednesday night between 7 and 8 p.m.
Doug Wead, an author and former adviser to both Bush presidents, drew loud applause when he described the congressman as "a clean boat in a sea of garbage." Throughout the day, Paul was held up as a beacon of ideological purity.
Paul, 77, is leaving Congress after his 12th term expires at year's end. But some hope he'll make a fourth run at the White House. He has run the past two election cycles as a Republican and ran once before as a candidate for the Libertarian Party.
Said Austrian School economist Walter Block: "It's true Ron will be 80 in 2016, but he's a young 80."
At one point during the five-hour rally, the audience broke into chants of "Paul '16" — but they were referring to Rand Paul, not his father.