By STEVEN NALLEY
Two hours earlier than he had planned, Jimmy Pritchett was pleasantly surprised to be part of Ron Paul’s audience.
Pritchett, a junior majoring in math, was eating dinner at Mississippi State University’s Colvard Student Union when staff members told him Oktibbeha County was under a tornado warning. Pritchett and others were asked to evacuate to the Dawghouse, where they found themselves listening to a press conference for Paul, one that had already been planned for 5 p.m.
“I didn’t know they were having this until I got trapped in here with them, but I’m definitely coming to his event at 7 p.m.,” Pritchett said. “I actually support him on all the issues, and he’s the only candidate I feel that way about.”
Ultimately, the weather didn’t stop crowds from turning out at Lee Hall’s Bettersworth Auditorium, where MSU’s Young Americans for Liberty put on Texas congressman Ron Paul’s first speaking engagement in the state of Mississippi, “Defining Liberty.”
Bryan Farrell, an MSU student and member of YAL, said he estimated about 975 people attended the event, nearly filling the auditorium. Paul’s book signing at MSU’s Barnes and Noble bookstore was also well-attended, he said.
“There were far more people than we expected,” Farrell said. “The reception is amazing. He got an ovation when discussing auditing the Fed.”
Paul himself said he, too, was very happy with the results of the book signing. Apart from the weather, he said, his first time speaking in Mississippi was going just fine.
“I’ve been here for just a few hours, and so far, so good, just keeping out of the storm,” Paul said. “We had a lot of people sign the petition for the invitation, and that is what motivated me to come over.”
Farrell said he considered the event a success despite the weather, which cut the press conference short. If a tornado had to interfere with one part of Paul’s day at MSU, Farrell said, he would rather it be the press conference, since Paul holds them frequently.
“Fortunately, it was at a point between the book signing and the speech,” Farrell said. “It was unfortunate we didn’t have the chance to have a full press conference.”
Though limited to about ten minutes, Paul made the most of the press conference.
He said he is “not necessarily” the progenitor of the TEA Party movement, but the TEA Party does fill an important vacuum in that they have restored American politics to a real two-party system. The two-party system of Democrats and Republicans is a farce, Paul said, because the two share too many similarities.
“They’re similar in foreign policy, they’re similar in deficit policy, they’re similar in economic policy, and on and on,” Paul said. “It’s not all the Democrats’ fault; it’s not all the Republicans’ fault. I think it’s very healthy that the American people are saying, ‘Enough is enough; we don’t like the status quo.’”
With America facing a major financial crisis, Paul said, citizens began to wake up, ushering in a TEA Party eager to usher in change. He said it has yet to be determined what the changes will be or when they’re going to occur, and he mentioned specific elements of the status quo he would like to see change.
“We’ve accepted the notion that we should be the policemen of the world,” Paul said. “We’ve casually, for many, many years, accepted the idea of having a federal reserve secretly printing money. Not many people really want to challenge the welfare state. It’s that attitude that has to be changed, and that’s what we’re in the middle of.”
He said real changes have to begin in schools before they occur in Congress.
“I think what young people study and learn and believe in is really about everything that counts,” Paul said. “It’s what people believe and their prevailing attitudes about economics and foreign policy and monetary policy, because if people believe in a certain way, it will be reflected in the Congress.”
Paul said he had yet to decide if he would run for president again in 2012.
“Probably within a month, I will be making an announcement one way or the other,” Paul said.
In the same way Bryce Amacker, a freshman majoring in computer engineering, said it was still too early to say if he would vote for Paul in the next election. Amacker was another of the students evacuated to the Dawghouse at the Union who heard Paul’s press conference, and he said hearing him in person hadn’t changed much of his preconceptions about Paul.
“It wasn’t anything new,” Amacker said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Compared to Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, he’d have my vote.”