Ron Paul Surges In Iowa Polls

Ron Paul is surging in the polls — at least in Iowa — reflecting the implosion of other candidates, his memorable debate performances and eclectic libertarian positions. He's for ending the wars — as well as what he calls the "socialist big government." What is his role in the GOP nomination race? Who is he hurting and helping? Could he conceivably win the nomination? Does he want to be president?

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Lynn Neary.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Iowa tonight, it will be way below freezing. But on the political front, the state is heating up fast. The Republican caucuses are less than a month away, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is leading in the polls. Two other candidates, though, are hot on his tail.

NEARY: In a moment, we'll catch up with Mitt Romney. He's contending with the unexpected ascent of Gingrich. First, we follow Texas Congressman Ron Paul. His message was once on the fringes of the Republican Party. It now often seems to closer to the mainstream. NPR's Brian Naylor has our first story from Ames, Iowa.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Texas Congressman Ron Paul is on a roll. The most recent Des Moines register, Paul puts in second in Iowa, behind Newt Gingrich. Other surveys have him tied for second or third, and he's running hard here in Iowa. The 76-year-old grandfather is keeping a grueling schedule of town hall meetings, college rallies and local media interviews. The airwaves are filled with his ads, like this eye-catching one.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What's up with these sorry politicians? Not smart. But when it's show time, whimpering like little Shih Tzus. You want big cuts? Ron Paul has been screaming it for years. Budget crisis? No problem. Cut a trillion bucks year one. That's trillion with a T. Department of Education, gone. Interior, Energy, HUD, Commerce, gone. Later, bureaucrats. That's how Ron Paul rolls. Want to drain the swamp? Ron Paul. Do it.

NAYLOR: In a meeting room in the Boone Public Library, an overflow crowd spills out the door. As the white snow falls outside, Paul dashes off his own one-of-a-kind blend: libertarian conservative constitutionalism, slash the budget, eliminate the Federal Reserve, repeal the Patriotic Act, bring all U.S. troops home and avoid foreign entanglements.

REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL: This is - we're in Libya now. And soon, we'll be in Syria. And I'm not sure long after that, we'll probably in Iran. And the war really isn't over in Iraq. And it's hot and heavy going in Afghanistan, and it's about to explode in Pakistan. It's just is not - we just cannot continue to do this.

NAYLOR: Paul will later make the same points to a packed rally at Iowa State University. The 12-term congressman has long done well with college students. But here in Boone, it's an older crowd that nods their heads and respectfully applauds his views. Mike Schwartz, a retired a manufacturer says, it all makes good sense to him.

MIKE SCHWARTZ, RETIRED: We need to quit trying to take care of the world. We have our own problems. And those are sincere to me because I have grandchildren who are going to grow up in the society. But I am scared of what it's going to be.

NAYLOR: In many ways, the times have caught up to Ron Paul, now in his third bid for the White House. His positions, the need to sharply cut federal spending, questioning the motives of the Federal Reserve, now seem reflective of what many in the GOP are saying. But it's the party that's moved toward him. Political science professor Steffen Schmidt at Iowa State says Paul has been remarkably consistent in his beliefs.

STEFFEN SCHMIDT: Ron Paul, in a way, is the father of at least one of the trends in the Tea Party movement. I mean, he's the original Tea Party. He's always had an extremely conservative economic position. And what makes him, I think, popular with a substantial segment is his consistency. He isn't - you cannot accuse of him of flip-flopping.

NAYLOR: And there is a combative side to Paul. He's never been afraid to state his views, no matter how against the grain, a trait evident in his performances at the many GOP debates this campaign season. Here he is last month at a debate cosponsored by CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN DEBATE)

PAUL: I think we're using too much carelessness in the use of words that we're at war. I don't remember voting on a declared - declaration of war, oh, a war against terrorism.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

PAUL: And terrorism is a tactic. It isn't a person. It isn't a people. So this is a very careless use of words.

NAYLOR: And Paul's combative campaign is now taking on the latest frontrunner in Iowa, Newt Gingrich. Paul is running an ad against the man he once served under when Gingrich was House speaker, accusing him of, quote, "serial hypocrisy." Paul has had no trouble raising money online to pay for his ad buys and his core supporters are known for their devotion. Now, the question is whether he can continue to grow that support and present a serious challenge to Gingrich come January 3rd. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Ames, Iowa.

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