With just hours to go before the influential Iowa caucuses, Republican presidential contender Ron Paul and his son, Rand, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, started a five-city blitz Monday morning in Des Moines and breezed through Cedar Falls this evening.
Their aim was to shore up support and fend off suddenly competitive Rick Santorum and his quick ascension to the top tier of candidates.
In Cedar Falls, about 200 people overfilled a room at the for Paul's quick speech before the candidate headed out the door to speed off to the day's final stop, in Mason City.
Paul's fans are nothing if not fervent. One woman in the audience was overheard telling a friend, "It's just like seeing Jesus, only second in line. Jesus is first."
The crowd was considerbly smaller than the representative's , however, when more than 700 people filled the Slife Ballroom on the University of Northern Iowa campus. Paul's supporters skew young, and he could be hurt on Caucus night because Iowa college students are on winter break.
Earlier today, in Des Moines, son Rand Paul stirred up hundreds of his father's supporters who packed a downtown hotel ballroom, at times interrupting fiery political talk with chants of “Ron Paul, Ron Paul, Ron Paul!”
The high-energy, circus-like atmosphere was more than Jacob Webb and his 44 classmates from Cincinnati, OH, expected as they pushed their way to the front of the throng for a closer look at Paul, whose limited government, anti-war messages resonate strongly with young voters.
Ohio is a primary state, so the experience is much different for voters, said Webb, who planned to see as many Republican candidates as possible, attend a precinct caucus and take part in other only-in-Iowa political moments before returning to Cincinnati on Wednesday.
“This is crazy, really dynamic,” he said. “I get a great sense of the pride Iowans have in the caucuses.”
Caucusgoers Still Likely to Change Their Mind
For Ron Paul, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
With 41 percent of likely caucusgoers saying in Sunday’s new Des Moines Register Iowa Poll that they could still change their minds before heading to neighborhood precinct gatherings on Tuesday, the Caucus-eve tour is critically important for the Texas congressman.
At 22 percent, Paul is still in a strong No. 2 position behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who’s leading at 24 percent, but is increasingly vulnerable to to Santorum’s surge. The former Pennsylvania senator has picked up endorsements from influential Iowa religious conservatives and other political leaders, and the Iowa Poll had Santorum in a strong No. 3 position and quickly gaining on Paul and Romney.
The poll was taken over four days, but when the last two days are considered separately, Santorum rises to second place, with 21 percent, pushing Paul to third, at 18 percent. Romney remains the same, at 24 percent, the Register reported.
“The American people are stirring,” the candidate said. “We are sick and tired of endless spending, and government doing things they shouldn’t be involved in and not doing the things they should be doing.”
He reminded Iowans of their important role in the caucuses and reached out especially to young voters, who had great sway in Democrats’ support in the caucuses four years ago for Barack Obama.
“A lot is at stake,” he said. “The next generation is here today. This is the way we change things.”
Rivals Say Paul Isn’t Electable
Paul’s strong poll numbers have caused his political rivals to step up attacks on a hands-off foreign policy that they say would allow Iran to have nuclear weapons. His views have been criticized as out of step with traditional Republican values, and former Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann went so far as to say he would be “dangerous as president.”
But Rand Paul said “there’s only one candidate in this race who can balance the budget in his first term” and “only one candidate the soldiers trust.”
“That candidate is my father,” he said, calling the Texas congressman to the podium.
Offering himself as the people’s candidate, Ron Paul repeated his calls for limited government, an end to attacks on personal liberties, and sound fiscal policies that resonate strongly with Tea Party activists. His calls for the U.S. military to stand down and not consider soldiers as the world’s police drew strong applause from a group of veterans in the crowd.
Rand Paul reiterated comments he made Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” when he dismissed criticism that despite his popularity in Iowa, Ron Paul could win neither the Republican nomination nor the presidency. Rand Paul said his father’s strength among independents and Democrats make him the only Republican who could “reach across the boundaries of party, collect a lot of people who don't vote normally and really energize the party.”
Besides Des Moines and Cedar Falls, the father-and-son duo also planned stops in Davenport, Cedar Rapids and before ending the day in Mason City.