TAMPA — Former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul is set to return to the University of South Florida on Wednesday, two years after he rallied supporters at the Sun Dome ahead of the Republican National Convention.
Some 8,000 people turned out to hear Paul criticize the Federal Reserve, tout the benefits of limited government and call for an end to overseas wars.
The 79-year-old Texan, who left Congress in 2013 after 12 terms, said in an interview he's not running for political office, but nonetheless enjoys touring colleges to extol libertarian themes.
His talks no longer draw the thousands of his stumping days, but he's hoping for a big turnout when he visits USF to deliver "a candid look at the American political system," according to USF organizers. The speech, free and open to the public, is part of the student-run University Lecture Series.
USF said Paul will use anecdotes from his two decades in Congress to "highlight his views on the need for a limited government, more personal liberties and will advocate for liberty in politics."
Paul said he's looking forward to the discussion, which will involve audience interaction.
"When I go to college campuses I try to keep it lighter," he said. "It's very serious in a way, but very upbeat in that I want people to know there's an answer to this mess."
The talks usually consist of a 45-minute lecture and 30 minutes of questions and answers. Paul's lectures draw from across the political spectrum.
"They're very diverse and I've always considered that an advantage," he said. "Whether a left or right person, whatever your standards are, it's all up to you. If you understand liberty, you can be very tolerant. The left and the right, they can both come together to defend liberty."
He said the talks remind him of when he was a young obstetrician running for Congress in 1974. He lost that race but won a special election two years later and served 12 terms in Texas' 22nd and 14th congressional districts, often while bucking mainstream Republicans.
He was the only Republican to vote against the 2002 Iraq War resolution. He opposes the Patriot Act and the federal war on drugs, and says states should regulate marijuana as they see fit. "I believe in the freedom to choose, to make your own choices," he said.
But like many Republicans, he also favors smaller government and has consistently voted against budget deficits. More striking, he's repeatedly introduced bills since 1999 to eliminate the Federal Reserve system.
In 2012, to the ire of Republicans, he refused to speak at the Republican National Convention in Tampa when Mitt Romney's camp insisted he endorse Romney for president, which Paul wouldn't do.
He remains similarly unimpressed with two potential GOP candidates today: Jeb Bush and Florida's U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. "I'd say they were pretty average, status quo, middle-of-the-roaders," he said.
His son, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is often mentioned as a possible candidate, but the elder Paul wouldn't confirm whether his son will run — or whether dad would play a part in the campaign.
"I guess we will know next year," he said.
Contact Rich Shopes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @richshopes.