ST. PAUL, Minn. – Richard Matthews, Republican congressional candidate from Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District didn’t expect a large crowd when he agreed to speak at the Open Forum Stage in St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday morning.
But when he stepped to the podium on St. Paul’s Open Forum Stage at 8:20 a.m. there were just two people listening: a reporter and an organizer’s relative.
A total of three backers of Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul from Maryland spoke, but uncomfortably, with virtually no one on hand to get the ice-breaker thrown out by Patrick Citroni, who manages Matthews’ campaign and was representing another Paul supporter running for Congress from Maryland.
“Maryland is an extremely liberal state,” he said. “It’s so liberal even our crabs are blue.”
The situation was caused by some dickering over rules and a failure by those invited to respond to organizer Harold Owen, a Paul supporter from Eldersburg, Md.
Of the eight congressional candidates Owen invited, just Matthews, Mike Hargadon from the 7th Congressional District and Collins Bailey, of Waldorf, Md., from the 5th Congressional District, said they would attend. All were in town for Ron Paul’s Rally for the Republic, a sort-of parallel convention by supporters of the former Republican presidential candidate.
Matthews, of Orchard Beach, thought it would be a good way to gain more exposure.
“It would have been good to see more people but it’s early. I’m just surprised they even had a stage,” Matthews said.
Then Bailey canceled at the last minute. After parking near the Xcel Energy Center, the home of the GOP convention, he realized that although he was less than a quarter-mile from the stage, he was cut off by the security cordon and couldn’t make it in time.
Hargadon, of Woodstock, Md., sent Citroni, of Baltimore, as his surrogate.
Matt Reinartz, the St. Paul Open Forum Stage coordinator, said that several morning speeches have drawn only a few people and at least once, speakers didn’t show at all. Others, however, have drawn as many as 50 listeners, he said.
Despite the lack of audience, Citroni said his St. Paul experience was positive. Although the crowd at the Open Forum Stage was small, he said he had been happy to gain so much exposure among protesters.
“We were happy to see a lot of protesters here in St. Paul that we could welcome into the fold. We’re anti-war. We like to show people there are Republicans talking about those issues,” he said.
Matthews, who is endorsed by Paul, took the podium at about 8:20 a.m. and delivered an impassioned speech advocating smaller government, a simplified tax code, an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and civic activism.
“While you are here in St. Paul, if you don’t like your candidate, run yourself,” he said. “I’m running for Congress because I didn’t like my congressman. I saw that he was going to run unopposed potentially in this race and I decided that I could not let that stand.”
He said the lack of attendance was disappointing, but he was happy to see that the city had created an alternative forum.
“Honestly, I’m even surprised they had a stage,” Matthews said.
Part of the problem Citroni and Owen agreed was the stage’s obscure location with only one street directly accessing it.
When Owen saw a group of birds and squirrels on the street, he joked about the surrounding security barriers and said, “Does the city know those animals are being improperly caged?”
Reinartz contended the stage had prime location within earshot of the building where the Republican convention was being held.
“I’m extremely happy because this is unprecedented that you can get within sight and sound of the (convention) center. People can voice their opinions and delegates can hear them as they enter the building,” he said.
Delegates, however, don’t generally come to the Xcel Center until an hour or two before the program begins, which was 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Low attendance, Reinartz added, was mostly the result of poor promotion by speakers and organizers.
“It’s their responsibility to get their troops out here,” he said. “We’re just here to provide the opportunity to have a sound system and a microphone.”