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Texas Congressman and GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul is campaigning in Iowa, where the state's caucuses come in less than four weeks. Recent polls have put Paul second or third among his party's candidates. But no Republican has a bigger following among young people. Paul appeared before a packed rally at Iowa State University in Ames last night.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: At first glance, it's not easy to figure why Ron Paul is so popular with young people. At 76, he's old enough to be their grandfather, something he alluded to last night.

RON PAUL: I understand this is a busy week. Some of you are involved with studying, so this was a chance not to have to study for a couple hours, right? But I have a lot of children, a lot of grandchildren, but I'm always advising them, study hard, get your courses down. So...

NAYLOR: Several hundred young people, mostly students, packed the Great Hall of Iowa State's Union building. Many wore flannel shirts and knit caps on a cold snowy night. They listened intently as Paul, standing behind a lectern, touched on some of his more esoteric views - on Austrian economists and returning to the gold standard. But they responded with enthusiasm when he got to issues they could relate to, like the threat he says is posed by the Patriot Act.

PAUL: There's a serious attack on our personal liberties - your rights your privacy, passing bills out of a panic mode. And passing things like the Patriot Act, it doesn't help your personal liberty. I'd like to get rid of the Patriot Act, to tell you the truth.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

NAYLOR: Paul also struck a chord when he called for a sensible foreign policy, one that does not feature thousands of American troops fighting and based overseas.

PAUL: That's one of my major goals is to get back to a sensible foreign policy and say a foreign policy ought to be for giving us a strong national defense, mind our own business and start bringing all our troops home from around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

NAYLOR: Paul also got applause when he said the war on drugs had been a detriment to personal liberty and that people should be allowed to buy and drink raw milk and grow hemp.

PAUL: I just am not frightened by a free society. I'm frightened by those individuals who prevent us from having a free society. That's where our real threats are.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

NAYLOR: After the speech, dozens of students stood in a long line to have their pictures taken with Paul.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Pictures are going to be on the Ron Paul Facebook page.

NAYLOR: Newly graduated engineer Lyle Whitmer, wore a Ron Paul button and said he was supporting Paul because of his views on monetary policy.

LYLE WHITMER: I want to have the same opportunities that my parents did when they were my age, getting started with a new job. And when you devalue the currency like the current Federal Reserve system does, I'm not going to have that same opportunity. So, I'm looking to maintain the country as we grew up.

NAYLOR: Emily Highnam, a senior from Cedar Falls, says she wasn't sure she would support Paul, but was curious to hear what he had to say and understood his appeal to so many students.

EMILY HIGHNAM: I think young people are really interested in the idea of freedom, because this is kind of - a lot of students anyway this is kind of their first taste of it away from their families and kind of experiencing freedom for the first time. And I think that he really emphasizes that and that appeals to a lot of students.

NAYLOR: The January 3rd caucuses come in the middle of winter break at Iowa State and most other colleges. Still, there were tables for students to sign up and organizers urged them to think about spending their Christmas vacation with Ron Paul.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Ames, Iowa.

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