DES MOINES, Iowaâ€”Ron Paul has come under fire for racially derogatory comments in newsletters he published some two decades ago, but many Iowa voters who first got to know the Texas congressman almost a quarter century ago aren’t buying the idea that he is a bigot.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Arleigh Clemens, a 74-year-old retired manager of a construction-supply company and the co-chairman of the Johnson County Republican Party. “I can’t believe a guy from South Texas could get elected to Congress for all of those years if he was a known racist.”
Mr. Paul is pushing back against a small uproar generated by renewed interest in the newsletters as nearly all the Republican candidates flow back into Iowa for a final week of campaigning ahead of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. Most plan to drive home their final argument by reiterating messages they have been delivering for months.
The newsletter excerpts, which refer to several minorities in derogatory terms, surfaced in the national press several years ago but drew renewed attention last week, as Mr. Paul rose to the top of some Iowa polls and established that he could be the state’s front-runner. A front-page headline in Monday’s Des Moines Register read: “Could Ron Paul Win?”
Mr. Paul, who insists he didn’t know of the controversial comments at the time they were published, has become visibly frustrated with the fresh focus on the newsletters. Last week, when pressed on the subject, he walked away from a television interviewer.
“Dr. Paul has stated repeatedly that he did not write these words, did not approve them, has disavowed them, and apologized for not exercising better oversight of things being published under his name over 20 years ago,” Gary Howard, a spokesman for Mr. Paul’s campaign, said Monday.
The newsletters were published in the late 1980s and early 1990s under three titles by Mr. Paul and his political organization. Though many were written in the first person, Mr. Paul, who has run for president twice before, has said he didn’t write them or keep a close on eye on what they contained.
Some of the more inflammatory articles said it was logical to be afraid of black men, and that the racially charged Los Angeles riots spurred by the beating of Rodney King ended only because welfare checks arrived in the mail.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has fallen to third in Iowa polls behind Mr Romney. Should Mr. Paul stumble, he stands to be the primary beneficiary. On Friday, he challenged Mr. Paul to explain the newsletters and the extent to which he profited from them.
Whether Mr. Paul is damaged by the controversy or not, the Iowa race remains a jumble, with polls showing about a fifth of likely caucus-goers undecided as the contenders begin a barnstorming week around the state.
After spending much of past week pushing back against negative advertisements attacking his record, Mr. Gingrich begins a bus tour Tuesday during which he plans to draw a contrast between his economic plan and tax proposals and those of Mitt Romney, a senior Gingrich adviser said.
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