LOS ANGELES — Looking to keep pace in a presidential race that has quickly centered on Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, Texas congressman Ron Paul thrilled supporters Saturday at a Republican convention by calling for deep cutbacks in Washington and a withdrawal of American troops from abroad.
Most Republican contenders skipped the California party conclave to focus on Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states.
Paul, lagging in national polls, turned his stop into a personal campaign rally with a crowd of mostly younger voters lured to a downtown Los Angeles hotel through Facebook postings.
He took the stage to chants of "President Paul" and earned a standing ovation after outlining a minimalist view of government in which the U.S. would withdraw from NATO, end the war on drugs, shutter the Federal Reserve and summon home U.S. troops.
"You have perpetual war, you have perpetual debt," he told the crowd, to raucous cheers.
He warned of a federal government run amok, with endless layers of bureaucracy stifling growth and individual rights.
Speaking with reporters, Paul said he's not worried that polls show Perry and Romney pulling away from the Republican pack. If it's a two-person race, "It's Romney and me. ... That's OK," Paul said.
Paul, a Texas congressman known for his libertarian leanings, has a reputation for attracting fervent crowds that do not translate into significant votes on election day. In California's 2008 presidential primary, he notched 4 percent of the vote and was far out of contention.
An independent Field Poll of California Republicans this week lumps Paul with a large group of contenders in single digits, with Romney and Perry out front.
"I don't dwell on that," Paul said. "It's way too early, and I'm not inclined to talk about horse races."
Earlier, Paul addressed about 200 party activists over breakfast, where he warned the country is "up against a wall" but could not spend and borrow its way out of its economic troubles.
Jon Benjamin, 23, a Riverside college student who attended the rally, said he shared Paul's fears that a centralized government and a shaky U.S. dollar could undermine the nation's future.
Paul "is one of the last Americans fighting for the people," Benjamin said. With the current direction of the country "it's almost depressing how concerned I am."
The nation's most populous state does not hold its presidential primary until June, four months after the Iowa caucuses in early February. The late date makes it unlikely the state will have a significant role selecting the party nominee, unless the campaign turns into a closely fought, extended contest.
In national elections, the state is considered a Democratic stronghold — the last Republican to carry California in a presidential election was George H.W. Bush, in 1988. President Barack Obama won the state by 24 points in 2008 and even Romney, who owns a home in La Jolla, is snubbing the California event.