Charlie Riedel, Associated Press
Newton, Iowa — Texas Rep. Ron Paul received a welcome befitting a man with a suddenly serious chance to win next week's Iowa Republican presidential caucuses as he arrived in the state Wednesday for a final burst of campaigning.
His rivals attacked him, one by one.
If the 76-year-old libertarian-leaning conservative was bothered, he didn't let it show. He unleashed a television commercial that hit Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. In his remarks, lumped all of his rivals into one unappealing category.
"There's a lot of status quo politicians out there," he told a crowd of a few dozen potential caucus-goers who turned out to hear him on the grounds of the Iowa Speedway. "If you pick another status quo politician nothing's going to change."
The audience applauded, but by day's end, it appeared that yet another contender might be rising.
According to public and private polls, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is gaining ground in the final days of the race, yet another unpredictable turn in a fast-changing caucus campaign. "We have the momentum," he proclaimed.
The politicking was unending.
Two politically active pastors in Iowa's robust evangelical conservative movement disclosed an effort to persuade either Santorum or Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota to quit the race and endorse the other.
"Otherwise, like-minded people will be divided and water down their impact," said Rev. Cary Gordon, a Sioux City minister and a leader among Iowa's social conservatives.
There was no sign either contender was interested.
For months, Romney has remained near or at the top of public opinion surveys in Iowa, as Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, businessman Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich rose briefly to challenge him.
Romney has bent without breaking in the face of each challenge, benefitting from his own well-funded campaign, attack advertisements funded by deep-pocketed allies and the missteps of his challengers.
Paul's surge represents the latest threat, and in some respects, the unlikeliest, coming from a man whose views on abortion, the war in Iraq, Iran and other issues are at odds with those of most Republicans.
At the same time, his anti-government appeal appears to tap into the desire of a frustrated electorate for profound change in an era of high unemployment and an economy that has only slowly recovered from the recession.
"In the last couple of weeks I fell into Ron Paul's camp," said Bob Colby, of Newton, who spent 21 years in the military and is a former employee at a now-shuttered Maytag plant in town.
"I threw my hands up" in frustration, said Colby, who added that he supported Romney in the 2008 caucuses and chose Sen. John McCain over Obama that fall.
In his remarks, Paul drew applause when he said, "I want to cut $1 trillion out of the budget the first year," and eliminate deficits in three.
"The debt is unsustainable once it reaches a certain point," he said. "...My whole effort is to face up to it."
He strongly suggested the United States withdraw its troops from Asia, and drew laughter from the audience when he noted Obama's recent announcement that Marines would be deployed to Australia.
"How long do we have to stay in Korea? We've been there since I was in high school," he said, making no mention of the recent death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the resulting uncertainty about the nuclear-armed nation.
Nor did Paul refer in his remarks to his recent statement in a campaign debate that he would not consider pre-emptive military action to block Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
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