TAMPA, Fla. – Rep. Ron Paul, with his trademark fervor, used a counter-convention rally in Tampa Sunday to take shots at a Republican establishment he claimed was "failing" the country. As the 77-year-old congressman prepares to retire after three presidential bids and decades in Congress, Paul told a rowdy crowd that the party would eventually drift into his "tent."
"We'll get into the tent, believe me, because we'll become the tent eventually," Paul said. "Once they know we are the future they will know about us."
Paul, whose most recent presidential bid ended earlier this year, drew about 8,000 to a rally in Sun Dome stadium at the University of South Florida, separate from a weekend rally by Paul supporters at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Paul reportedly declined an invitation to attend that event.
The final stop on the Texas Republican's presidential tour was several miles away from the official Republican convention in Tampa, Fla. With the start of that convention effectively delayed by Tropical Storm Isaac, Paul's rally was just about the most lively political event in town Sunday -- as Paul and his supporters heaped scorn on the convention that was about to get under way.
"It made the paper in Washington that the revolution wasn't happening," Paul said. "Don't they only wish."
The physician has a loyal following for his proposals, which include reducing the size of government, returning to the gold standard and shuttering the Federal Reserve.
Paul, capping off a six-hour rally, accused the Republican Party of bending, breaking and rewriting the rules of Washington for too long.
"The answer is not more efficient government," he said. "It's getting government out of things they're not supposed to be doing."
Paul repeated themes prominent throughout his presidential campaign, including criticism of both major parties for expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, government bureaucracy and the erosion of civil liberties.
The "We are the Future" rally was part revival, part college lecture and every bit a tribute to the retiring Paul. He urged his followers to keep up the fight.
"We can turn it around if we put the work and effort into it," he said.
Rally speakers included an "Austrian School" economist (it's not often an economist gets a raucous ovation), and Barry Goldwater, Jr.
John Popper of Blues Traveler and guitar legend Jimmy Vaughan provided musical interludes, with Vaughan adding to the chorus of the day, improvising the lyrics "Down with big brother."
The crowd was the usual eclectic, colorful mix of small-government conservatives, veterans, young people and a few oddballs, many in "Ron Paul Revolution" T-shirts and carrying political signs. Paul did not win any state's popular vote during the GOP nominating process, but has continued to compete for delegates to the convention.
Speakers struck small-government, anti-war chords common at Paul presidential rallies, including "End the Fed!" Tom Davis, a South Carolina state senator and delegate to the Republican National Convention, brought the crowd to its feet with strong words for the chairman of the U. S. Federal Reserve.
"Ben Bernanke is a traitor, a dictator," he said.
The event included swipes at both President Obama and the Republican Party. Master of Ceremonies Doug Wead said it was not Paul who was the extreme wing of the GOP.
"Their meeting starts tomorrow a few miles away," he said.
The Republican convention that will make Mitt Romney the GOP standard-bearer will include a short video tribute to Paul.
Paul supporters didn't mince words for the establishment. Economist Walter Block called Paul critics "ignorant savages."
Among the faithful, some of who had come from Idaho and Michigan and Alabama to hear Paul speak, many said they would support Romney in November. Others said they would still write Paul's name on their ballot.
Josh Womrath, a 28-year-old college student at the University of South Florida, said he admires Paul for his anti-war beliefs and his refusal to subvert his values to popular opinion -- a criticism of both Obama and Romney. A registered Republican, he voted for President Obama in 2008, but is undecided this year.
Karen Calisterio came from northern Idaho for the convention and volunteered for Paul in her home state. She's a Republican who is also undecided. Paul, she says, remains a threat to the Republican establishment.
"He actually does what they say they stand for," she said.
Paul stopped competing in primaries in May but managed to amass roughly 160 delegates in hopes of making an impact at the convention.
He ran for president in 1988 as a Libertarian Party candidate and as a Republican in 2008 and 2012.
Fox News' Robert Shaffer contributed to this report.