Blogs Tout GOP Presidential Hopeful Ron Paul

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Texas congressman Ron Paul is one of the candidates hoping for a strong showing this weekend in Iowa Republicans' presidential straw poll. His unconventional platform — one he calls "anti-war: and "anti-welfare" — is attracting support from the grassroots and 'Net roots.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Iowa Republicans will hold a presidential straw poll this weekend. A nonbinding but closely watched measure of how GOP candidates are fairing in the state that will hold the nation's first nominating caucus.

One of the candidates hoping for a strong showing is Texas Congressman Ron Paul. National polls show him near the bottom of the Republican field, but Paul's unconventional platform, one he calls anti-war and anti-welfare, is attracting support from both the grassroots and the netroots.

From Council Bluffs, Iowa, NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.

ADAM HOCHBERG: It would be easy to dismiss Ron Paul as simply a fringe candidate for president, a little known congressman making his second run for the White House with a campaign that's gained little traction in national polls.

But then you meet somebody like Joan Ameth(ph), a 60-year-old retired teacher from Lawton, Iowa who says Ron Paul changed the way she feels about politics.

Ms. JOAN AMETH: I finally found somebody that I can really get excited about. There are so many issues that I agree with him on, and I want to make some noise and wave my Ron Paul sticker. And I need to do this, this year.

HOCHBERG: Ameth's passion is not unusual among Paul supporters, a relatively small but intense group of voters attracted to a candidate who's a social conservative, a strict constitutionalist and a long-time libertarian.

Unidentified Man: At this time it's my great honor and pleasure to introduce you to Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

(Soundbite of applause)

HOCHBERG: As he travels around Iowa in advance of the GOP straw poll, Paul is delivering the same idiosyncratic message he's preached for decades during a career that includes 10 terms in the House and a presidential run as the Libertarian Party candidate in 1988. Simply put, if the federal government does it, there's a good chance Ron Paul is against it.

Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas): The government is too bureaucratic. They spend too much money. They waste the money. It's not authorized under the Constitution, and local control always works better. You save a lot of money and you don't get messed up with all the confusion of Washington.

HOCHBERG: Included on the long list of government programs Paul would do away with are Social Security, the Patriot Act, disaster relief, the entire income tax system and the Federal Reserve. He wants to go back to the gold standard instead. A retired obstetrician, he opposes abortion, and unlike every other Republican presidential contender, he's against the Iraq war, which he argues is a misguided response to terrorism.

Rep. PAUL: 9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq. There were no al-Qaida in Iraq. Saddam Hussein didn't like them. And those individuals who say that if we left Iraq like I wanted to do - I want to bring the troops home - that it would be a disaster. Well, it's a disaster when we're there.

HOCHBERG: Paul suggests flawed U.S. policy in the Middle East prompted the 9/11 attacks, a contention that's brought indignation from his Republican opponents and scowls from some party leaders. But Paul's outspoken views also have raised his public profile, especially on the Internet. Videos of his speeches have become popular online, and so many Internet groups have sprung up on his behalf that the 71-year-old congressman has been taken aback by it.

Rep. PAUL: This whole thing, many of it's been new to me - meet-up groups, YouTubes. And it actually brings people together and we see this in our rallies. All kinds of people come to our rallies. I mean, the hippie-type long hairs, as well as the businessman, as well as Christian conservatives, so it's a real phenomenon.

Mr. RYAN CHAVALIER(ph): Hi, Dr. Paul.

Re. PAUL: Hello.

Mr. CHAVALIER: I'm Ryan Chavalier(ph).

Unidentified Woman: Hello.

Rep. PAUL: Nice to meet you. You want to get a picture over here?

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Rep. Paul: All right.

Mr. CHAVALIER: Please.

HOCHBERG: Indeed, a Paul campaign event this week in Council Bluffs brought out an unusually diverse group of supporters. Anti-abortion activists and social conservatives sat side by side with peace advocates, conspiracy theorists and members of a group called Christians for Cannabis who want to legalize marijuana.

College student Spencer Hunt(ph) was there, too. He says he's changing his registration to Republican so he can vote for Paul.

Mr. SPENCER HUNT: Dr. Paul is the only real option that we have to have a future in this country. I'm looking forward to being able to have the civil liberties that have been part of this country's history for the past 200 some odd years. He has those rights at heart.

HOCHBERG: Congressman Paul says he's skeptical of polls that show his national backing in the low single digits. He says his Internet support continues to grow, and his fundraising, while still well below the top tier candidates, is on the upswing. He concedes Saturday's Iowa straw poll as important, but quickly adds that he sees himself as part of a larger political movement, one he says he'll continue to promote, regardless of what happens in his current campaign.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Council Bluffs, Iowa.

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