MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa — Republican White House hopeful Ron Paul, courting Iowa voters who are key to his campaign, called Wednesday for a “minding our own business” US foreign policy and an end to “perpetual war.”
“No more wars unless you declare them, and fight them, and win them, and get them over with, because perpetual war is bankrupting our country,” he told a cheering crowd of some 200 people packed into a civic center room.
With scarcely two weeks before Iowa holds the first presidential nominating contest, the Texas lawmaker has clawed his way to the top spot here in an average of polls by the RealClearPolitics.com web site that tracks US politics.
His well-organized, well-funded campaign, stocked with passionate young people, has vaulted him to the lead over better-known rivals like former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
“He could be the upsetting factor” in the fight for the Republican nomination to take on President Barack Obama in the November 2012 elections, according to Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Iowa.
Paul’s appeal hinges on his unorthodox libertarian message, notably his devout calls for ending government involvement in the economy and his sharp criticisms of US overseas involvements — both military and in foreign aid.
“Every year we spend more and more money overseas. We spend it on foreign aid, and intervention, propping up dictators, fighting wars that we don’t need to be fighting, and they drain” the US treasury, he said.
Paul, who has called for cutting some $500 billion from overseas spending, said his approach “was one time what Republicans advocated, you know: Minding our own business and having a strong national defense.”
But Paul, a sharp critic of US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the conflict with Libya, forcefully rejected his rivals’ charge that he’s an isolationist: “I’m a non-interventionist, that’s quite a bit different.”
Goldford said Paul, who ran strong in Iowa in the 2008 presidential race but came in fifth, has learned the lesson of that disappointing finish.
“Turnout is key, and while this is hard to quantify, you can say that enthusiasm times organization equals turnout. The Paul people have enthusiasm and intensity, they also, this time, have organization, which they didn’t have last time around,” he told AFP.
But it’s unclear whether he will have “staying power” through the other early contests precisely because of his break with the party’s traditional foreign policy.
“Paul has been articulating the standard libertarian view that the US ought to get out of the rest of the world. This challenges the Republican national security brand,” he said.
That’s just fine with Aaron Garrett, 32, a registered nurse who backs Paul to the hilt and says “we should be focused on securing our own border before we start to worry about the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Nick Beelman, a 45-year-old with a struggling forestry and tree care service, said Paul would not “be like those guys now who are trying to provoke Iran into what could be World War III.”
Iowan Dianna Burden, 53, described herself as “a very conservative voter” said she leaned towards supporting former senator Rick Santorum for the nomination but was intrigued by Paul.
“I wanted to hear Ron Paul today because I’m in agreement with some things he says, and disagree with other things he says,” she said, without elaborating.
Kay Young, a 76-year-old Democratic voter from Mount Pleasant who plans to support Obama, said Paul is “on the right track” with his “anti-war foreign policy.”
“If, for some reason, Obama is knocked out, I’d like to know who might be the alternative,” she told AFP. “Ron Paul could be a choice.”