TAMPA, Fla. -- Flag-carrying guests were welcomed with raucous Libertarian tunes, $6 draughts and vendors offering everything from $1 temporary tattoos to $500 cruise tickets.
The Republican National Convention this is not.
Before Mitt Romney's supporters began trickling into town, a growing crowd of Ron Paul supporters had begun to assemble for a three-day alternative convention at the Florida State Fairgrounds that runs through this evening.
They're all here: the activists, the idealists, the libertarian, the Tea Partiers, the disaffected Democrats and the music lovers who came to hear bands including Corrected Axiom of Stroudsburg, Pa. Missing, though, is Mr. Paul himself, the Texas congressman who had campaigned for the GOP nomination. He declined an invitation but is holding his own event today at the University of South Florida's Sun Dome.
"We're disappointed he's not here, especially because we've been in touch with the campaign for weeks," said Tracy Diaz, a member of the festival planning committee.
Organizers were so disappointed that they changed the name of the event from Paul Fest to P.A.U.L. Fest, an acronym for People Awakening and Uniting for Liberty, but they say the candidate's absence doesn't diminish their passion for what he stands for.
"We're not just here for Ron Paul but because of our core values and message of libertarianism," said Ms. Diaz, 32, of Long Island, N.Y.
"The message is more than him. We're resigned to the fact that he's not going get to the [Republican presidential] nomination but that doesn't deter me from working for the cause. We need to break the two-party paradigm."
Brian Dougherty, 25, of Jeannette is a Ron Paul delegate and has been a supporter since 2008.
"He spoke the truth about everything and he opened my eyes," to the need to audit the Federal Reserve and return to the gold standard, Mr. Dougherty said.
"I realize and I understand that Mitt Romney is the presumptive nominee, but my vote is a message ... that he should be more like Ron Paul," he said. "I want him to actually follow through on ... auditing the Federal Reserve, requiring a federal declaration of war and instituting a presidential gold commission."
In a video on his campaign website, Mr. Paul urged his supporters to come to Tampa for the Sun Dome event.
"A lot of people are paying attention to it," he said. "[We] have a philosophy that we believe in so strongly and we're working hard."
The event is expected to be a passing of the torch to the next generation of Libertarians, since Mr. Paul, 77, is unlikely to run again in 2016.
Libertarians like Ron Rollins, 53, of Florida are putting their hopes into former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate for president.
"It's the message that's important, not the man," said Mr. Rollins, who attended P.A.U.L. Fest on Saturday. "Ron Paul realizes Gary Johnson can carry the torch."
Mr. Johnson addressed a boisterous festival crowd Saturday, saying he was grateful for the path Mr. Paul, a Green Tree native who graduated from Dormont High School, paved by running as a Libertarian presidential candidate in 1988.
"Be Libertarian for me for one election, one election, and together we'll show the world and the nation that what Ron Paul stood for is not a fluke; it's the future," he told the screaming crowd of about 1,000.
The party would be much less of a factor if Ron Paul hadn't been part of it, said Chris Dobson, 26, of Polk County, Fla., who volunteered at a Libertarian Party of Florida information booth Saturday.
"Liberty-minded people have a lot of respect for Ron Paul," he said. "But Ron Paul isn't going to be around forever so we have to start looking to other people. This doesn't die with Ron Paul. That's not what this is about."
Although Mr. Paul's 2012 campaign is on the Republican ticket, he has been urging supporters to keep churning out the message of Libertarian ideals.
That's something Chris and Virginia Wayne are trying to do -- one sticky note at a time.
The couple came from Texas to distribute 50-sheet pads of sticky notes imprinted with anti-Obama messages meant to left on gas pumps and grocery-store shelves.
"These are 'Anybody But Obama' sticky notes and we're on a mission," Mrs. Wayne told prospective customers at P.A.U.L. Fest.
They carried messages such as this one meant to be stuck on gas pumps: "Hey voter! Getting used to these prices yet? How's that 'Hope and no change' in your pocket working out for you?' "
The pads were selling for $3 but the Waynes' aim isn't so much to turn a profit as to spread a message. Both have full-time jobs -- she as a graphic artist, he as a geologist.
The Waynes were among about 30 vendors, some seeking to raise money for libertarian campaigns and others looking to make a profit on Paul merchandize. Among the wares were shot glasses, T-shirts, campaign buttons and both copper coins and Ron Paul Chocolate Bars meant to resemble gold bars.
The festival is a project of the Liberty Unleashed political action committee.electionspresident
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-996-9292.