- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2011

NEWTON, Iowa — Ron Paul is no longer being ignored.

Returning to campaign in Iowa on Wednesday as the king of the presidential hill — albeit barely, according to the latest average of polls here — the 12-term congressman from Texas was greeted with a swarm of press coverage and a hail of attacks from his fellow candidates.

“It does look like there are more cameras than there used to be,” he chuckled as he made his first stop in Newton, surveying a standing-room-only crowd of a couple of hundred voters who packed into the Iowa Speedway media tent to hear him speak.

Mr. Paul is no stranger here. He’s one of two repeat candidates from the 2008 GOP field, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and he’s been remarkably consistent in his positions throughout those four years, and even before that. The main thing that’s changed, he said, is everything else.

“I’ve been talking about freedom for a long time. That’s what motivated me to get into politics. And for many years the crowds were very small, there was little interest, but it’s steadily grown,” he said. “All of a sudden people are tired of the wars, they’re tired of this economy, they’re tired of the Federal Reserve, they’re tired of Congress spending a lot of money. And they’re looking for some change and I have suggested one significant change: Why don’t we just follow the Constitution?”

David Richardson of Newton, Iowa (left) and Quaitemes Williams of Dallas listen as Mr. Paul speaks at the Iowa Speedway in Newton on Wednesday. "I've been talking about freedom for a long time," he told the Jasper County town-hall meeting. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
David Richardson of Newton, Iowa (left) and Quaitemes Williams of Dallas listen ... more >

As his government-shrinking, military-cutting, fiscal responsibility message is getting a second look by GOP voters, Mr. Paul is suddenly the talk of Iowa, holding a slight lead in the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls with less than a week to go until the Tuesday caucuses and sparking fierce debate among his fellow Republicans.

Some in the GOP say a Paul win in Iowa would diminish the caucuses, and Gov. Terry Branstad this month told Politico that it would make folks look at second and third place to determine where momentum really lies in the national race.

His opponents, too, are taking notice — and taking aim. Mr. Paul’s pronouncement at the final pre-caucus debate this month that he would not use force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon has provided the ammunition.

Ron Paul would be dangerous as a president of the United States,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a fellow candidate who serves in Congress with Mr. Paul.

Mr. Romney, while not naming Mr. Paul specifically in a town hall in Clinton, Iowa, said it was unacceptable for Iran to gain a nuclear weapon.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said this week that he couldn’t vote for Mr. Paul for president.

Some analysts said it was inevitable that Mr. Paul would surge in Iowa. Every other candidate, save for former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, has risen and then fallen.

The question is whether Mr. Paul can translate his appeal into votes.

In 2008, that wasn’t the case. He poured millions of dollars into Iowa but managed only a fifth-place showing with 9.9 percent of the votes cast. He placed behind Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who didn’t even contest Iowa.

In later caucuses, with a narrower field, Mr. Paul did better, including taking nearly a quarter of the vote in Montana’s caucuses early that February. But he never cracked the 10 percent mark in any of the primaries and scaled down his campaign March 6.

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