TAMPA — Ron Paul may have snubbed their party, but in the eyes of his fanatics he can do no wrong.
Paul's disciples — some still holding out hope he could earn the Republican nomination at the party convention this week — gathered at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Saturday in an event called the PAUL Festival (People Awakening and Uniting for Liberty).
They lauded the Republican, who will retire from Congress, as the greatest congressman who ever lived, a man worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize and the Medal of Freedom. They credited him for opening their eyes about the Federal Reserve, the gold standard and limited government.
"Ron Paul is the man," said Ian Wilson, who sold elaborate chocolate bars imprinted with Paul's face at the PAUL Festival. "He's the only candidate worthy of his own chocolate bar."
The crowd welcomed Paul's surrogates like rock stars, including Lew Rockwell, Paul's former chief of staff who runs a popular libertarian website, and Walter Block, an economist and author.
They even celebrated his accountant younger brother, Wayne.
"We've started a revolution," Wayne Paul said in kicking off the day's speakers. "And we're going to finish it."
There was no love for the Republican Party or its all-but-confirmed presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Mentions of Romney — dubbed "the anti-Ron Paul" by one speaker — elicited impassioned boos.
"The Republican Party has been like Lucy with the football, and all these suckers every year are Charlie Brown," said Thomas Woods, a libertarian historian and analyst. "A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for the status quo, and anyone who thinks otherwise is absolutely delusional."
"Dr. Paul will never endorse such a reprehensible human being."
Visitors who came from across the country sipped Budweiser and Bud Light from plastic cups while browsing exhibits from Scientologists, Guardians for Liberty, Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.
Souvenirs were interesting. Some guests bought packs of Post-Its from ABO (Anybody But Obama) with prewritten messages about increased prices for commodities since Obama took office.
"People put them in pharmacies, doctors offices, waiting rooms," Dallas-based vendor Virginia Wayne told a woman browsing a pack of notes that warned of cuts to Medicare as part of the health care law.
The crowd erupted with "End the Fed!" and "President Paul!" chants during speeches from brainy speakers like Rockwell and Woods. They roared for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential candidate and former governor of New Mexico who sung Paul's praises.
"I want to make this really clear. If I thought Ron Paul was going to get the nomination, I would not be standing here before you today as the Libertarian Party candidate for president," Johnson said. "But this is an exclusionary process, and each and every one of you know it."
Paul himself is expected to speak at 4 p.m. today at a rally at the University of South Florida Sun Dome.