As Ron Paul surges in the polls, crowds grow, too

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Iowa is buzzing with talk of Ron Paul.

The Texas congressman appears poised to win the Iowa caucuses, and excitement about his candidacy was palpable at a standing-room only event in Newton, Iowa on Wednesday where Paul quipped that he’d never seen so many cameras at one of his campaign stops.

“I’ve been talking about freedom for a long time,” Paul said. “For many years, the crowds were very small. But they’ve steadily grown.”

Paul has experienced an unexpected surge in the polls here in recent days; his Real Clear Politics average is 22.5 percent, meaning he’s neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney and leading the rest of the pack.

And on Wednesday night, Paul snatched Sen. Kent Sorenson from Rep. Michele Bachmann’s campaign. In a statement, Bachmann blamed the defection of her state chair on “a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign.”

Paul covered a lot of ground during his Newton stop, promising to ax the Patriot Act, to cut $1 trillion from the budget in the first year, and pull United States troops out of the Middle East.

One of the toughest questions from the crowd focused on Paul’s pledge to eliminate a handful of federal departments, including the Department of Energy, which oversees security of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

Paul conceded that the National Nuclear Security Administration ought to be preserved but put in a different department.

Meanwhile, Paul’s stance on foreign affairs has come under fire from other candidates for being too isolationist

Bachmann is among the critics.

“Ron Paul would wait until one of our cities in the United States is wiped off the map before he reacted,” Bachmann said at a campaign stop in southern Iowa. “I won’t wait. I’ll act.”

But that’s among the many things that Jack Church of Blakesburg, Iowa, likes about Paul.

“A lot of the other Republican candidates seem to be on this drive, this march to go to war with Iran,” Church said. “I think that is insane. I’m sick of young men and women coming back with missing body parts, missing legs from the [improvised explosive devices].”

Paul didn’t leave the stage without reminding the crowd to vote next Tuesday. Iowa has same day registration, and some of the Democrats and Independents who say they’ll support Paul this time around could turn the caucuses in his direction.

Paul argued that if voters are sick and tired of the status quo, he’s the quintessential outsider candidate.

“A message is going to be sent,” Paul said. “There are a lot of status quo politicians out there… if you pick another status quo presidential candidate, nothing is going to change.”