Presidential underdog excites some locals |

Presidential underdog excites some locals

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL ” In the dimly lit interior of the Ski Bar in Vail Village, Kenny Karol-Chik Griffin enthusiastically recounted the time he met underdog presidential candidate Ron Paul at a rally in Wyoming.

“We were just sign waving, and this van pulls up, and the window rolls down, and it was the man himself,” Griffin said in one breath to the small group of fellow supporters. “I got to shake his hand for the third time that day ” it really made my day. It was like meeting Santa Claus.”

It is the first official meeting of Ron Paul supporters from Eagle, Summit and Lake counties, although the group, which has about 25 members, have been corresponding through an online “meetup” for months.

A “meetup” is group people sharing a similar interest who find each other via an online group, then agree to organize meetings in person.

In this case, the similar interest is supporting Paul, a 10-term Texas congressman who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination on a platform of small-government, returning to the gold standard, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

Paul, although not a front-runner in the nomination race, has gotten attention for his grassroots campaign based mostly on Internet groups like the Snowboarders and Skiers for Ron Paul, YouTube videos and online fundraising.

The last fundraising blitz on Nov. 5 raised more than $4 million in 24 hours. The “money bomb” shows there is more support for Paul than the media lets on, said Griffin, who heads the local meetup.

It is an unlikely group ” older businessmen, snowboard bums, and recent college graduates who describe themselves politically as anything from Libertarians to Ronald Reagan fans to disillusioned Democrats.

But that is the amazing thing about Paul’s following, said James Norman, a software engineer from Dillon.

“He draws a variety of people from all walks of life, because everybody likes freedom, and that resonates with all kinds of people,” said Norman, 26.

Griffin, 39, looks more like a laid-back hippie than your typical Republican, with his baggy T-shirt emblazoned with “Ron Paul Revolution,” long blonde hair covered with a multicolored rasta hat and enthusiastic attitude.

The Leadville resident, who works at the Ramada in Frisco and sometimes as a DJ at the Ski Bar, said he has been a Democrat and then a Libertarian, but would describe himself as a “swing voter.”

“I heard what Ron Paul was saying, and I thought, this is what I want,” Griffin said. “He guarantees individual rights and yet he has conservative values.”

Kevin Cannell, 39, owner of the Balance Wheel jewelry stores in Vail and Beaver Creek, said he likes Ron Paul’s conservative financial policies. As a business owner he is conservative with his money, he said, and he likes to see the government spend his tax money the same way.

“With our national debt spiraling out of control, somebody needs to step up and do what the country needs,” he said.

Breckenridge resident J.J. Ilseng, 27, said he likes Paul’s foreign policy and his promise to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq. Ilseng, who recently returned to the country after a Peace Corp stint in Romania, said being abroad changed his political views.

“I’ve been to Lebanon and Turkey, and the perception people had of America there was not only that we’re a bad country, but that we’re bad people. Ron Paul wants to change that,” said Ilseng, who is taking some time off to snowboard before applying to graduate school.

The online aspect of Paul’s campaign has drawn in many younger people, said Breckenridge resident April Jones, 22. It draws a diverse group, but it easier for people to get involved, she said.

“Ron Paul is my MySpace friend,” she said, grinning.

Dillon resident Tom Hanke, 59, said Paul’s reputation for having a young, online fan base is exactly what excites him about the movement.

Hanke, an alfalfa and potato farmer, said he has followed Paul’s career for a number of years.

“I’m surprised and elated that so many young people feel the way I do, that we need to reinstate the Constitution. Without the young people we’d have lost all our enthusiasm to change the direction of the country,” Hanke said.

Despite the Internet buzz and a few fervent fans, Paul is very much an underdog in the race, admitted Frisco resident Cole Steed, 24.

“But you’ve got to start somewhere. You can’t just put it to the side because you don’t think he’ll win. You gotta at least try,” he said.

– Skiers and Snowboarder for Ron Paul:

– Eagle, Summit and Lake County meetup group:

– Official site:

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or

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