In Iowa, Republican candidate Paul campaigns his way
LEMARS, Iowa (Reuters) - There's nothing quite like a Ron Paul rally.
If you've come expecting to hear the Texas congressman bash his opponents for the Republican nomination for president, you're likely to be disappointed.
And if you've come for a fiery pep talk or pandering words about how wonderful your state is, you're probably in the wrong place.
But if you think that the Federal Reserve and the United Nations are trying to take control of your life, that the military industrial complex wrongly pushes the United States into wars and that the media is part of the problem, then Paul's rallies might be for you.
Those rallies are attracting hundreds of people as Iowans prepare for the caucuses on Tuesday that will kick off the Republican presidential nominating process for 2012.
It's a reflection of a campaign that appears to be battling long-time front-runner Mitt Romney for first place in the Iowa caucuses, the first step in determining which Republican will face Democratic President Barack Obama in the November election.
Paul's support in Iowa is about 21 percent, according to recent polls, and does not seem to have changed much in recent weeks, despite reports of racist and anti-gay statements in newsletters released under Paul's name two decades ago.
Paul has disavowed such writings. But his backing may be so steady because, unlike any other Republican candidate, many of those who favor Paul are not just supporters. They essentially are a devoted campaign army -- a mix of young and old, who have bought into Paul as an authentic, no-gloss speaker of the truth.
For Paul and his followers, the topics involve a government run amok, banking conspiracies targeting the U.S. dollar or Paul's isolationist foreign policy.
During his campaign trail speech, Paul exudes his own brand of anti-charisma.
There is none of the physical, homespun humor of Texas Governor Rick Perry, one of Paul's opponents. There is none of Newt Gingrich's celebration of self or Romney's penchant for delivering confusing jokes.
Paul, 76, recites articles of the U.S. Constitution, rather than verses of "America the Beautiful" as Romney did in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Thursday.
At times, Paul will display a hint of a dry sense humour, telling the crowd, "I think there is an election coming up herhumor Paul is not widely viewed as a threat to win the Republican nomination but the strength of his support can be measured by the fact that some of his opponents have been attacking him recently.
Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, have been particularly aggressive in casting Paul as outside the Republican mainstream and having a dangerously isolationist foreign policy.
At Paul's rallies, many of his supporters say they share his suspicions about the government and threats to their liberties.
Cathy Ortman, who said she was undecided between Paul and Romney, was part of an older crowd gathered at the LeMars Convention Centre to hear Paul speak on Friday.
There, Paul - a frequent critic of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - blasted U.S. foreign policy and the Patriot Act, which increased the powers of U.S. law enforcement after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Ortman said people have to come see speakers like Paul in person "because you can't trust the media."
"The media portrays people wrong," Ortman said.
Eric Ropte of Brunsville, Iowa, said that media portrayals of Paul and his supporters are "180 degrees off."
Ropte, a truck driver, added that "the media doesn't like him because he doesn't want to bomb anybody."
When Paul showed up at an event in Manchester, Iowa, last week, his entire entourage fit inside a white minivan. It included his three Iowa co-chairmen, a personal aide, and a bodyguard. Only Santorum travels lighter.
By comparison, Perry's entourage travels in two buses that carry the governor, a security detail of Texas Rangers, media handlers and advisers.
In a contest normally marked by kissing babies and reciting local trivia (Perry told the home crowd that Burlington, Iowa was the "Backhoe Capital of the World"), Paul resists charm.
During a chance breakfast encounter Thursday morning with a reporter, Paul snapped, "Right now, the only thing that bothers me is people who don't respect my privacy enough to leave me alone for five minutes when I'm eating breakfast."
The candidates have developed their own signature pieces of campaign casual wear -- a blue flannel shirt for Romney, cowboy boots for Perry, an entire rainbow of sweater vests for Santorum. But Paul sticks with what might be called accountant chic. Almost every day, he wears a grey or blue suit, a white dress shirt and a tie, usually with red stripes.
"He doesn't change" his views, Nancy, of Clayton County, Iowa, said approvingly at an event last week. Like several Paul supporters at his rallies, Nancy declined to give her last name.
During his rallies, Paul casts himself as someone who can stop the nation from entering a darker place as a financial doomsday looms.
"I'm afraid of violence coming," he recently told a crowd of more than 600 in Bettendorf, Iowa. "When you see what the government is preparing for, and the arrests and military law, and the demonstrations in the streets, some people aren't going to be convinced so easily that you don't owe them a living."
This month in Iowa, Paul has repeated his predictions that the United Nations might take over the U.S. currency as the nation's debt spirals out of control.
One of Paul's biggest applause moments is his promise to cut $1 trillion from the U.S. budget. He also would eliminate the departments of Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Interior.
Economic analysts have said Paul's plans would plunge the nation back into a recession but his supporters say dramatic action is needed.
"The major issue we're looking at right now is the national debt," said Darrell Alderson, 54 of Sigourney, Iowa, who was attending a veterans' rally for Paul in Des Moines on Wednesday.
"We're printing money and using it to pay our interest," Alderson said. "That wasn't a good sign back in the '30s. The dollar is getting devalued . If we lose the dollar we're going to be in bad, bad shape. History's going to repeat itself."