Paul’s Anti-establishment Campaign Draws Crowds

December 23, 2011

MAQUOKETA, Iowa (AP) — It’s usually a low-key, even quiet affair.

Ron Paul enters a room almost furtively, his narrow shoulders hunched as he takes the stage. For 30 minutes, he delivers something close to an academic lecture on monetary policy, the dangers of overseas military entanglements, the power of the free market and, of course, the importance of freedom.

“You have a right to your life, a right to your liberty and the right to the fruits of you labor so you can keep what you earn,” he says to cheers.

The crowd — large by Iowa standards in a Republican presidential race — listens, rapt. The Texas congressman takes questions and poses for a few photos, then disappears behind a door.

A Paul campaign rally is a decidedly stripped-down affair, with few signs, no theme song and a candidate more comfortable discussing a return to the gold standard than glad-handing. His libertarian message, given little attention nationally for most of his long political career, has struck a chord this year with voters angry over bank bailouts, government dysfunction and the burgeoning federal debt.

Voters seem to like what they hear, and some are even flirting with the notion that this unorthodox congressman could be in the White House. Polls find Paul topping the GOP field in Iowa less than two weeks before the state’s kickoff caucuses — his unconventional campaign attracting a coalition of tea party supporters, students and political independents looking for a candidate who can beat President Barack Obama.

“He’s the only consistent conservative out there,” said J.C. Weiand, a law student who attended a Paul rally in Fort Madison. “For 30 years, he’s been preaching the same message. Now his time has finally come.”

Voters largely tuned Paul out in 2008, when he placed a distant fifth in Iowa despite robust fundraising and a small but fiercely loyal grassroots base. Campaigning across eastern Iowa this week, the 76-year old former obstetrician says the political environment has changed over four years.

“The world is a different place, the economy is in a different place and the American people have changed their minds,” Paul said to cheers in Maquoketa.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Paul refused to predict whether his campaign could be sustained over the long haul.

“Whether I can maintain it is the big question,” Paul told AP. “Are we going to have enough money and do we have enough time? And what about the establishment? I’m attacking their largesse.”

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