CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul on Monday stoked big crowds packed with younger supporters on a five-city air tour of Iowa, re-emerging in the state he'd left for two days as a leader in state polls but with his support leveling.
Traveling with son Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and tea party favorite, the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman railed equally against Democrat-backed programs and typically Republican priorities such as the USA Patriot Act.
"I am so pleased that the people have responded of my concern about the federal government's intrusion into our private lives," Paul told more than 300 people in a Davenport hotel ballroom the day before Iowa's caucuses.
On the flight from Des Moines to Davenport, Paul chatted with his son about medicine. The father has been an obstetrician and the son an ophthalmologist.
Paul has steadily gained ground in Iowa in the closing two months of his second bid for the Republican nomination. With a more structured Iowa organization than the one that produced a fifth-place finish in 2008, Paul's campaign has penetrated more GOP-leaning homes than his five rivals, according to polls.
While Paul narrowly trailed only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in a Des Moines Register poll published Sunday, his support dipped in the final days of the four-day survey in the wake of increasingly sharp attacks over his opposition to preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon with a military strike.
It did not dissuade him from repeating in Davenport and Cedar Rapids an argument that brought loud cheers in Des Moines. "Just listen to some of the candidates. They are willing to start bombing Iran right now. One thing is for certain, this country does not need another war," Paul told the crowd in Davenport.
Paul dismissed criticisms that his opposition to military intervention would cost him politically, arguing that it was a popular position with Democrats and independents. Swing voters are often less apt to register as Republicans to participate in GOP caucuses.
The Register's poll showed Paul viewed as the least likely to win the general election. He has said he has no plans to run as an independent should he lose the GOP nomination.
"The message is much more appealing across the board than if you are portrayed as a right-wing extremist," Paul said during an interview en route from Davenport to Cedar Rapids. "This is where I get the most support from these young people."
Paul steered clear of criticizing his rivals, but his son took an indirect jab at former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. "You've got so-called GOP candidates for president traipsing round Iowa who have voted for foreign aid," Rand Paul told a crowd of more than 300 in Cedar Rapids.
Ron Paul defended taking 48 hours off over the weekend, despite polls late last week showing that more than 40 percent of Iowa caucus-goers could change their minds before Tuesday's voting.