Technically, it's been open for weeks, but Thursday night about 50 fervent Ron Paul supporters showed up to officially open GOP candidate Ron Paul's state headquarters in Columbia.
While there was socializing among the mostly young crowd, there was work to be done, too. Several of those in attendance spent a good portion of their time — including during an Iowa debate-viewing party that capped the night — manning phone banks and hitting online social media sites to campaign for the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman.
That type of grassroots effort may be necessary for Paul to make a good showing in South Carolina next month. The candidate has spent little time in the state and likely will not even visit again until a scheduled Jan. 16 debate in Myrtle Beach, said Paul's state campaign director Brian Gentry.
With 36 days left until the S.C. primary on Jan. 21, Paul is consistently running third in the state in recent polls. The latest Marist/NBC News poll has Paul running behind frontrunner Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney with nine percent support.
"He hasn't had a huge presence in South Carolina and I've seen some concern about that from supporters. He could be here more," said Paul volunteer Chris Barczak, who owns the Trestle Building at 2965 N. Main St., where the Paul office is housed.
"I'm disappointed, but I understand," he said. "I think that's because Ron Paul has had a hard time gaining attention from national media; he's put more focus on his efforts in Iowa and New Hampshire as the first primaries, to kind of make a splash."
Barczak said he doesn't expect Paul to win Soiuth Carolina, but at least do well enough to continue fighting.
Paul's state chairman, Aiken physician and former Third District congressional candidate Mike Vasovski, also acknowledged Paul's absence from the state, but believes it is mitigated by the campaign's unique cross-generational grassroots base.
Indeed, one look at Thursday night's crowd and it's obvious that a Paul crowd is not your typical Republican crowd. This crowd was much younger, considerably hipper, and in most respects not even Republican at all. Several volunteers and supporters told Patch that they could not even conceive of voting for a Republican nominee other than Paul, and would not vote for Obama either.
"I would certainly identify myself as more third-party," said twenty-something supporter Samantha Barth, who was attending with her husband and two small children.
"Paul's ground game in South Carolina is what you're seeing right now — it's all grassroots," said Vasovski. "It's all volunteers. There's one, maybe two, paid staffers. It's us, doing it on our own, with very little or no direction from the campaign.
"Everything is focused on Iowa right now and maybe South Carolina feels slighted," Vasovski added, "but as soon as Iowa is in the bag, it's off to New Hampshire — and then after that? You'll see things explode in South Carolina. It's going to go ballistic."
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