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Leading in Iowa, Ron Paul says ‘a message is going to be sent’

Charles Dharapak | AP | BDN
Charles Dharapak | AP | BDN
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, speaks during a campaign event honoring veterans at the Iowa State Fair Grounds in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011.
By Paul West, Tribune Washington Bureau

NEWTON, Iowa — Returning to Iowa, where polls show him contending for first place in next week’s caucuses, Ron Paul studiously ignored a barrage of news media questions Wednesday about fresh attacks from rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, including over incendiary newsletters published under his name in the 1990s.

The 76-year-old candidate was trailed by a throng of reporters pressing him for a response to Gingrich’s latest attack in a TV interview Tuesday, in which he described Paul as too extreme to merit his vote were he to become the GOP nominee, and Romney’s swipe at Paul’s refusal to advocate a tough policy toward Iran’s nuclear program.

He got into his car without responding, except to a question about whether his vaunted Iowa organization would have precinct leaders at each of the 1,774 caucus sites across the state next Tuesday.

Paul replied that he didn’t have that information.

Paul is currently bombarding Iowa voters with TV and radio ads that aggressively attack rival GOP candidates, particularly Gingrich (for “serial hypocrisy”) and Romney (a “flip-flopper”).

But he avoided mentioning any of his opponents by name as he launched a three-day campaign swing at a racetrack less than an hour east of Des Moines, the state capital.

For about 45 minutes, Paul addressed a receptive noontime crowd of about 100 Iowans, rivaled in size by a media horde that has expanded in response to his improved chances in the Republican presidential contest.

“It does look like there are more cameras than there used to be,” the Houston-area congressman said, looking out at a bank of more than a dozen video cameras inside the Iowa Speedway infield media center.

What followed was a classic, professorial-style stump speech that touched on his now familiar combination of tight-fisted fiscal proposals and isolationist foreign policy.

He drew applause for his attacks on foreign aid and overseas entanglements (“Stop the wars. Stop the spending. Bring our troops home.”), a federal government assault on individual liberty (“I’d like to repeal the Patriot Act.”), big banks (“The people who got bailed out, they should suffer. They should go bankrupt, not us.”) and federal spending (cut $1 trillion at the outset and elimina te the Education Department and other federal agencies).

He also said, in response to an audience question, that he would include the Peace Corps in his plan to cut overseas spending (“The Peace Corps is not authorized under the Constitution.”).

Paul closed his remarks by reminding Iowans that “a message is going to be sent” from next week’s caucuses, the first voter test of the 2012 nomination contest.

“It’s going to go one way or the other,” he said.

In the closest he came to drawing a line with his presidential rivals, Paul said voters have a choice: “Pick somebody who wants to move (the U.S.) more quickly in the wrong direction” or someone, like himself, who believes “the defense of liberty is the defense of America. And that’s the direction we ought to go.”

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