ELKO, Nev. • A boisterous gathering of roughly 400 people cheered Thursday as Republican presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, said the middle class is under attack.
Paul also told the crowd Nevada is a place where there are “people who actually believe in liberty,” and he expects to do well in the Nevada Republican caucuses on Saturday.
Later, Paul told reporters he believed Western issues could best be tackled by returning public land to the states.
Stressing his theme that the United States needs drastic change, he said he would cut government spending by $1 trillion the first year, if elected, telling the crowd the government keeps on doing the same thing over and over.
“We’re destroying the middle class. It’s shrinking and poorer. The wealth has transferred from the middle class to a select few. Who got the bailouts — banks and big corporations? We’re self-destructing,” he said.
“If I am elected president, I would be devoted to the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States. Why don’t we try obeying the Constitution and reduce spending?” Paul asked.
The comments drew a big round of applause from the crowd, which included residents of not only Nevada, but also other nearby states.
Traveling from Caldwell, Idaho, the Watson family found themselves sitting next to Rick Anderson and his girlfriend, Alex Tomassetti, who traveled from Utah, as they waited Thursday for Ron Paul to arrive at the Elko Indian Colony Gym. They bonded not over the distance they drove, but over their mutual support of Paul and respect for the Republican congressman and presidential candidate.
“He’s unchangeable. He’s voted the same in the House for 24 years,” said Ken Watson of Caldwell.
Watson first saw Paul speak in 1988,when Paul traveled to Boise as part of his presidential campaign. That year Paul ran for the Libertarian Party, and while he didn’t win the election, Watson said he has continued to follow Paul’s career.
Proclaiming herself as a “fairly new supporter” of Paul, Tomassetti was introduced to the candidate by her boyfriend. She said she came to the rally with the intention of learning more about the man, and with the hope of speaking with Paul.
For Anderson, Paul’s knowledge of the law and Constitution set him apart where other candidates fall behind.
“(Paul) explains what he believes. All the others just say it, but they don’t go into it,” Anderson said. “He knows what the Constitution is and he uses it to explain his beliefs.” Similar thoughts were echoed throughout the diverse crowd — ranging from 20-somethings who are recent Paul supporters, to those who have long followed his career.
There was even a Democrat present, and while she wouldn’t give her name she said she likes to see all the candidates and thought that what set Paul apart is that he’s “practical.” Paul’s ideas of liberty, personal freedom and his knowledge of the Constitution were well-known throughout the crowd.
Paul, who has strong supporters in Elko, said earlier in answer to a question from the audience that he opposed taxing the hardrock mining industry. Moves to raise mining taxes at the state level are an ongoing issue, and lawmakers in Washington propose taxes on hardrock mining at the federal level.
Paul said “the federal government has already done way too much,” and he wants to disband the U.S. Department of Interior, which includes the Bureau of Land Management that oversees much of the major mining operations in Nevada.
The longtime congressman said he wasn’t familiar with another Western issue, managing wild horses, but he quipped the controversy probably “should be solved by some bureaucrat in Washington.” If not, the problems should resolve themselves if federal land is given to the states, and more land privatized, Paul said.
Paul was the first of two Republican presidential candidates passing through Elko ahead of Saturday’s caucuses. Mitt Romney will visit the Elko Regional Airport at 1:15 p.m. Mountain time today.