Among the Republican presidential candidates competing for caucus votes in Iowa is a man who has developed a small, but strongly committed following by voicing libertarian principles and opposing the war in Iraq. Public opinion polls indicate Texas Congressman Ron Paul is one of the most unlikely candidates to win the Republican nomination, but as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Des Moines, he shows no signs of giving up.
Congressman Ron Paul is greeted everywhere he goes by passionate supporters. At 72 years of age, he is the oldest candidate in this year's contest, but he draws support from many young working people and college students.
Public opinion polls in the key primary and caucus states indicate he is no threat to the top-tier Republican candidates. Two U.S. television networks announced this week that he will be excluded from upcoming debates, because he has not broken out of single digits in nationwide polls. But he is likely to remain in the race so that he can continue to champion the causes he says are neglected by other candidates.
Paul is a libertarian in terms of political philosophy, so he favors less government intrusion into people's lives. He ran for president under the Libertarian Party banner in 1988.
As a Republican, he has represented a Texas Congressional district on the Gulf coast south of Houston, serving from 1977 to 1985 and from 1997 to now. While many Republicans identify with his views, especially when he advocates smaller government, polls show the majority reject some of his key ideas on foreign policy and defense. He is the only Republican candidate who has opposed the U.S. effort in Iraq.
In a VOA interview last year, Paul argued that he represents a more traditional Republican stance on foreign affairs than President Bush.
"Bush ran on the program of a humble foreign policy, no nation building and do not police the world," he said. "Traditional Republicans and conservatives have had a much different approach to this. We do not need to be doing this. We should be concentrating on a strong national defense and dealing with our safety and our borders. But here we forget ourselves and we are bankrupting our country."
But his suggestion during a debate that U.S. bombing of Iraq had partially motivated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, drew sharp fire from candidate Rudy Giuliani, who as mayor of New York City dealt with the consequences of those attacks.
"That is really an extraordinary statement. It is an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11th, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq," said Giuliani. "I do not think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11."
Many other Republicans have also criticized Ron Paul's approach to foreign policy. A poll in Iowa last year showed 42 percent of Republican respondents viewed Paul unfavorably. But he has strong support in more libertarian areas of the country, like Montana, where supporters say he could win all 25 of that state's delegates in the caucus to be held on February 5.
That would give him only about one percent of the total delegates at the Republican convention, but having delegates would bolster his participation and make him harder to ignore.
The other factor that will likely keep Ron Paul going for the whole stretch is the depth of support he has among loyal followers and the money he has been able to raise through the Internet and other unconventional means, which he says will allow him to fight on.
"We are competing and we do it quietly and steadily," he explained. "Fundraising is very cheap on the Internet. We raise a lot of money and it is gaining. We raise more money every day and the numbers of people joining us every day are growing rather rapidly."
Ron Paul has a war chest of more than $18 million in campaign contributions that will allow him to buy television time and continue his quest to reduce the U.S. government and radically change U.S. foreign policy.