LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Some Republicans running for president are squeezing in last-minute campaign stops in Iowa before Christmas. Texas Congressman Ron Paul is one of them. He returned to Iowa as the frontrunner, according to some polls. In others, he's in a dead heat for the top spot with Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
Ron Paul may be peaking at the right time, but some old issues are threatening his campaign. Jonathan Ahl of Iowa Public Radio reports.
JONATHAN AHL, BYLINE: Ron Paul is anything but an establishment GOP candidate. Yet he's at the top of the polls, largely because his message appeals to more than just the typical Republican caucusgoer. That was made clear by John McCarthy and Michelle Godez-Schilling, both of whom attended a campaign stop in Dubuque.
JOHN MCCARTHY: I'd like to say I'm an independent, and for the first time in my life I'm affiliated with one of the two major parties because of you.
MICHELLE GODEZ-SCHILLING: I am actually a Democrat and I am in love with you. And I want...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
AHL: Paul's supporters have long complained the national media have ignored Ron Paul, and they are reveling in his front-runner status so close to the Iowa caucuses. Paul says he hasn't changed his message or his campaign.
RON PAUL: People keep asking me sometimes, Well, what are you going to do at this debate? How are you going to change your strategy? And I say, I've been doing the same thing for about 30 years, I'm not going to change very much.
AHL: And Ron Paul stayed on message in his latest Iowa tour. He touted his libertarian platform focused on smaller federal government that is not involved in health care, education or housing. But perhaps his most controversial stance among Republicans is on foreign policy. Paul advocates eliminating all U.S. aid to foreign countries and closing all international military bases.
Dean Tillis is an undecided voter who attended Paul's event in Maquoketa. Tillis's son-in-law died in Iraq, and he says he doesn't know if he can support Paul in light of what he calls Paul's isolationist policies.
DEAN TILLER: Yeah, we may get involved more than we need to in certain areas of the world, but I think we have to maintain somewhat of a presence in certain areas just because it's just necessary.
AHL: Congressman Paul is aware of the isolationist label, and on nearly every stop of his tour he dedicated some of his stump speech to fight that characterization.
PAUL: Isolationism is when you put up trade barriers and you put on sanctions. The people who make the charges toward me that I'm an isolationist are the ones who always want to put sanctions on countries and stir up trouble. And they're the ones who don't even want to open up conversations with Cuba. I think it's time that we traded and traveled to Cuba. There's nothing wrong with that.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
AHL: Another issue that has garnered negative attention this past week is the resurfacing of a series of newsletters that bore Ron Paul's name in the '80s and '90s that were riddled with racist remarks. Paul has been dismissive of questions about the newsletters, like in this interview on CNN with Gloria Borger.
(SOUNDBITE OF CNN INTERVIEW)
AHL: At that point Paul took off his microphone and walked out of the interview. Almost none of the dozens of Paul supporters I spoke with this week was aware of the newsletter controversy. Those that were are standing by their candidate. Michelle Godez-Schilling is the Democrat in Dubuque we heard from earlier professing her love for Ron Paul. She says racial equality is an important issue to her, but she hears what she needs to when Paul talks about individual liberties for all.
MICHELLE GODEZ-SCHILLING: I think he is a supporter of all people's rights as individuals, be they whatever color, whatever sex, whatever persuasion.
AHL: Jim Peterman of Maquoketa says he's supported Paul for more than a decade, and won't likely be swayed by the newsletter issue.
JIM PETERMAN: I'd say right now the benefit of the doubt, I guess, as always in politics - if more came out than what I have seen so far, yeah, it could change my mind. It depends what it is, though.
AHL: Paul and the other candidates are taking a break from campaigning over the Christmas weekend but will go full throttle in the week leading up to the January 3rd caucuses. For NPR News, I'm Jonathan Ahl in Iowa City.
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