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Googlers stump in N.H. for Paul

Inside the Googleplex, Ron Paul is wildly popular. Here's what happened when current and former Google engineers hit the Granite State to campaign for him. Photos: A techie touts Ron Paul

MANCHESTER, N.H.--Vijay Boyapati is perched on a snowy corner of Elm Street here late Sunday night, fielding other activists' phone calls with frost-numbed fingers, and enthusiastically signaling passing motorists with Ron Paul signs.

It's a long way from the famously comfortable, stock-option-granting, lava-lamp-outfitted environment at Google, where Boyapati worked as a software engineer until quitting his job a few weeks ago to support Texas Rep. Ron Paul's campaign for president.

Boyapati, 29, says he drew on lessons learned while building Google products to create the same kind of distributed volunteer network with the goal of drawing hundreds of Paul volunteers to New Hampshire. His effort's name? Operation Live Free or Die, of course, a nod to the Granite State's thoroughly libertarian motto.

"At Google, when you think about a project, the first thing you think about is how it's going to scale. You don't build it if it won't scale," says Boyapati, a six-year veteran of the company. "It's the decentralized server model that's used at Google. It's so familiar to me it's what I used."

The operation, an independent effort not organized by the Paul campaign, has drawn about 500 volunteers to the state in advance of Tuesday's primary, Boyapati estimates.

It works by squeezing as many volunteers as possible into about 12 homes that Boyapati has rented throughout the state, with extra people shuffled off to hotel rooms or to the homes of New Hampshire residents with a little extra room to spare. One host said in an interview Saturday that he had 15 out-of-state volunteers temporarily living in his basement.

"If you get a thousand people in a little state like New Hampshire, you can have a big impact," Boyapati says. "That impact is magnified because it's the first primary."

Googlers for Ron Paul
Boyapati isn't the only Googler who's braving New Hampshire's sub-zero winter to advance Paul's message of lowering taxes and government spending, opposing the Real ID Act, and withdrawing from Iraq immediately. Paul is the only Republican candidate for president who opposes the Iraq war and occupation.

One other former employee and five current Google engineers, who work on projects including an Asian version of Google Answers and the design of data center hardware, are staying with him in a four-bedroom group house close to Hackett Hill Road near Manchester. Boyapati says he doesn't know any Googlers who have come east to volunteer for other candidates. (After campaigning for Paul on Sunday, the crew returned home to watch V for Vendetta.)

After learning that Operation Live Free or Die volunteers were largely surviving on snack food, a local group called Ladies for Liberty volunteered to cook them meals twice a week. The rest of the time, there's a plentiful supply of potato chips, Indian takeout, and, in the refrigerator, Sam Adams beer.

In addition to having broad support online, Paul is by far the most popular Republican candidate among Google employees. He received $22,650 in contributions from them, according to Opensecrets.org, compared with a mere $2,300 that Googlers gave John McCain. They gave no contributions to Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney.

Google employees, in fact, represent the single top contributor to Ron Paul's campaign. They narrowly beat out men and women in the U.S. Army and Navy, who are in second and third place, respectively.

The Paul supporters at Google who are in New Hampshire this week seem to have coalesced around, or at least found each other through, an internal company "liberty" mailing list Boyapati created with about 100 members. Other internal lists are called "politics," "economics," and, for Googlers who own firearms, "militia." There's an accompanying T-shirt for subscribers to that particular list, with the "l" in Google represented by a rifle, and the full text of the Second Amendment printed on the back. (A photograph is here.)

Boyapati, who was born in Australia and became a U.S. citizen, says he was always libertarian-minded, but didn't figure out what his limited-government views were called until he "met a few libertarians at Google." One pointed him to the book Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, the Austrian economist and Nobel laureate. And after seeing Paul in the first Republican presidential debate early last year, Boyapati became a fan.

When Paul spoke at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters in July, Boyapati flew down from the Seattle office to attend the talk in person and announce that he had given Paul the legal limit of $2,300. That appearance turned out to be the most popular of all the visits by presidential candidates: the YouTube video of his speech has been watched 486,000 times, compared with 65,000 for Barack Obama, 23,000 for John McCain, and 63,000 for Hillary Clinton.

If there's any place where Rep. Ron Paul's get-the-government-off-of-our-backs message should find receptive ears, it's New Hampshire. Residents enjoy no general state income tax, no state sales tax, a legal shield from eminent domain abuses, and strong protections for firearm owners. The state was even chosen by members of the Free State Project as a destination for liberty-minded families and activists seeking reform at the state level.

Paul won a fifth-place 10 percent of the vote in last week's Iowa caucuses, and could receive a third-place 14 percent in New Hampshire, according to a Rasmussen tracking poll released Saturday.

But his from Sunday's Fox News debate in Manchester, N.H., probably won't help much. (The New Hampshire Republican Party unceremoniously withdrew its sponsorship from the debate over the weekend after Fox refused to change its mind.)

Fox News' exclusion led Boyapati and more than 100 so-called Paulistas to stage a boisterous protest in downtown Manchester through most of the late afternoon and evening on Sunday--one sign read "Fox News: Unfair Unbalanced," and another said "Freedom is Sexy." Meanwhile, Paul held a forum for undecided voters, and is scheduled to appear on NBC's Tonight Show on Monday evening.

Boyapati's contribution to the protest was to activate his network of Operation Live Free or Die volunteers. The distributed nature of the organization means that he alerts each "house captain," who in turn passes the word along to people staying in that house through e-mail, phone calls, and text messaging.

Instead of bankrolling this effort himself, which would likely run afoul of campaign contribution laws, Boyapati created a political action committee that's attracted some $50,000 in contributions, he said. It's an unlikely outcome for someone who had planned to pursue a PhD in computer science at Carnegie Mellon and had, as an undergraduate at Australian National University, appeared in a conference proceeding published in Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence.

At Google, he worked on machine learning and Google News.

If Paul doesn't win the nomination or general election, many of his supporters will be unfazed. They view the campaign as much about ideas as Paul himself. "This is a beginning of a new movement," says Boyapati, who next plans to head to Nevada before its caucuses on January 19.