The Intersection of Ron Paul and TGI Fridays

For all the speculation this election season over exactly who Ron Paul's supporters are, for once there was no question.

At the busy intersection of Rt. 28 and the Mall of New Hampshire entrance, between roaring six-lane traffic and the glittering retail mecca, the libertarian Republican presidential candidate's eclectic ground soldiers staged a makeshift battleground, waving signs and and playing chicken with the oncoming traffic ... all in the name of the man sometimes known as Dr. No.

The effort organized by Operation Live Free or Die brought out about 40 of them in all. That number might not seem like a lot, until you consider what 40-some hand-held Ron Paul signs look like waving furiously on the snow-banked medians of a crowded intersection when all the other candidates' signs are static, planted firmly into the snow.

At first glance, it's something of a metaphor for the Texas congressman's presidential campaign, long-characterized by a frenzied political fever online that took the other candidates and the country by surprise.

As fluid as the waving movement of the signs may seem, the choice of this intersection for a show of support was a calculated decision.

"We went to city hall and and got the maps out and figured out which parts were public property," said 27-year-old Jay Nevin, who quit his job as a computer trouble-shooter in Oklahoma to come canvass for the Paul campaign in New Hampshire. "We just saw this was the highest traffic area and we could hit a lot of people in a short amount of time."

Undaunted by Paul's performance at the Iowa Republican caucuses, where the Texas congressman finished in fifth place with 10 percent, his followers have descended on New Hampshire, living in groups in rented homes across the state for weeks if not months.

"Each house has a house captain and that house captain is responsible for making sure that their people are organizing the mornings, going out and have all the materials they need," said Roxi Cullinson, an organizer from Operation Live Free or Die. She, like Nevin, left her job around Thanksgiving to join the Paul movement in New Hampshire.

Cullinson said that not only has she never voted before -- she never even registered to vote before. But something about "Dr. No" is making her say yes to the political process, she said.

"I had no idea who Ron Paul was," Cullinson said of her life pre-May 2006. "I watched a video on YouTube called 'What We Choose to Ignore' and I started researching the video and decided that Ron Paul was the only hope that we have in changing this country."

Her group is now distributing that message on a DVD tucked inside pocket Constitutions to any car whose driver stops to listen ... or for a red light.

The group rotates through various ground efforts, including the more traditional door-to-door canvassing and working the phones, to spread their message voter to voter.

"We volunteer with the campaign when we can," Cullinson said, but she they don't always hae the same ideas about the best way to get the Ron Paul word out.

"They don't necessarily approve of our sign waving," she said. "They think it's OK. They'd rather see us phone-banking."

She finds a message in the spectacle of their visual force.

"At night, when you can't go door to door and you can't make calls after a certain time, we want our people out here -- showing our support in numbers," she said.

Getting to the median in the intersection -- located in the valley between Sears, Toys R Us, Autofair and TGI Fridays -- takes a certain amount of commitment as well, something this five-foot-tall digital reporter learned quickly.

The closest parking lot sits atop a small hill and the shortest distance between the two points involves a hike-cum-freefall down a slope where the snow lies knee deep. Paul's supporters have thoughtfully parked a car marked "Ron Paul Revolution" at the start of the trail and more than one will offer to assist you on your way down.

By Nevin's count the effort has spent "a dozen Sundays" under the soft glow of the changing traffic lights, ever-watchful of cars that take sharp turns into the road's shoulder, mollifying the mall security guards who approached them when they've crossed the imaginary line into private property, cheering to scattered honks from supportive drivers and taking the occassional "Hillary in '08!" shouts in stride.

After the primary on Tuesday, they'll take their efforts and the lessons they learn in the Granite State cross-country to Las Vegas, where plans for Paul-A-Palooza are already under way.

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