BOISE, Idaho — Texas congressman Ron Paul says he's the only contender in the Republican presidential field with the courage to cut federal spending, reduce the deficit and get the country out from under burdensome debt.
The spending cuts would start immediately, and in his first year in office Paul vowed he would restore the federal budget to 2006 levels and begin the process of eliminating five federal agencies.
Paul also pledged to shrink more than spending, telling more than 2,000 supporters in Boise Saturday it's time for the federal government to stay out of foreign wars and the personal lives and pocket books of all Americans.
"The role of government is to defend liberty," Paul said. "It's not to run the economy. It's not to run your personal life, and it's certainly not to police the world."
Paul's Boise rally was the third of three Idaho stops this week. He visited Twin Falls on Thursday and Moscow Friday as part of a Northwest campaign swing that also included four stops in Washington state.
His visit also caps an unprecedented week of campaigning in Idaho by the GOP presidential contenders. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum made appearances Tuesday in Coeur d'Alene and Boise, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney held a fundraiser and rallied supporters in Boise Friday.
The flurry of attention comes as candidates court Idaho voters and the 32 delegates at stake in the GOP caucuses March 6. In the past, Idaho's bounty of delegates — more than Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada combined — has been overlooked because the Republican primary has been held in mid-May.
Last year, Idaho's GOP moved up the contest to Super Tuesday and changed from a primary to a caucus. The switch put the state — which hasn't seen a visit from a presidential hopeful since Ronald Reagan touched down in 1980 — suddenly on the national radar.
"Basically, Idaho hasn't even gotten a sniff of interest in a long time from GOP candidates, and until now the state has been considered irrelevant," said David Adler, director of the McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho. "I would think what you're seeing from this week is something that ought to energize the GOP faithful ... and giving them a sense they have a voice and can have an impact on the outcome of this national race."
The importance of Idaho is not lost on Paul, whose libertarian and fiscal conservative philosophy has long played well in the Gem State. In the 2008 GOP primary, Paul collected 23 percent of the vote in losing to Arizona Sen. John McCain. On Saturday, his campaigned announced it was opening an office in Eagle to help rally support in the run-up to Super Tuesday.
Paul is the only of the four GOP challengers without a victory in any of the state contests held so far. But his efforts in Idaho and Washington, which holds its caucus March 3, suggest he sees opportunity in both states.
"The enthusiasm I've seen has been great," Paul said. "But the big job is translating that into a few victories. We have an opportunity to add quite a few more delegates right here in this state."
As he did in his other two stops in the state, Paul on Saturday also criticized President Obama and Congress for bailing out big banks and the auto industry several years ago. He also denounced decisions to engage in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying the fighting cost the country billions of dollars and thousands of casualties while wrecking the lives of soldiers and families.
"People are sick and tired of what we're doing overseas," Paul said, eliciting roars from the crowd. "We've been going around the world looking for fights. I say we don't go to war unless Congress declares war."