Iowa caucuses: Why does Ron Paul inspire such devotion?

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Media captionYoung supporters of Ron Paul and those in the Occupy protests call for change in different ways

Ron Paul is riding high in the polls in Iowa ahead of Tuesday's caucuses. But what is it about this right-wing libertarian that inspires such devotion among his followers - and such fear among many mainstream Republicans?

Dan Jones is lost for words.

The 28-year-old self-employed builder has travelled from Wisconsin to see his political hero Ron Paul in action.

He hears the briefest of campaign speeches - the first leg of a whistle-stop tour of Iowa ahead of Tuesday's all-important caucuses.

And Mr Paul's supporters are nearly outnumbered by the hordes of foreign and domestic media crowded into a hotel ballroom in downtown Des Moines.

But the artificial atmosphere does not blunt the fervour of the crowd, which chants Mr Paul's name and cheers his pledge to shake up the status quo and return America to its founding principles of "liberty, peace and prosperity".

"We are on our way. So help us God," says Mr Jones as he watches Mr Paul depart the stage, flanked by his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

'For the long haul'

Ron Paul inspires the kind of devotion in his followers that most modern politicians can only dream of.

Yet he is seen by many mainstream Republicans as, at best, a deeply misguided figure, "a good protest vote" as rival candidate Newt Gingrich described him recently.

At worst, the 76-year-old Texas congressman is viewed as a dangerous radical who would isolate America in the world and wreck the fragile economic recovery at home.

But the ideological purity and consistency of his libertarian message - and his adoption by the Tea Party movement - has struck a chord with many young Republicans, disillusioned by what they see as the half-truths and evasions of the other presidential hopefuls and the political class in general.

"They want somebody they can look up to," says Dan Jones.

"He's like a grandfather figure. You respect him, he garners our respect. Other candidates are just trying to woo you and court you and take you out on a date and then leave you. Ron Paul seems like he is in it for the long haul."

The other contenders for the Republican nomination must constantly fend off accusations of flip-flopping and trimming their policy positions to suit the prevailing mood.

Not Ron Paul. Everybody knows what he stands for, as it has barely changed since he first ran for president in 1988 under the Libertarian Party banner.

"He has never changed his attitude in the last 30 years and I feel if you vote for anybody else you might as well be voting for Obama," says another supporter, Theresa Yourisom.

"We are broke." Mrs Yourisom says. "We have got to get out of all these wars."

Mr Paul's call for US troops to be brought home from Afghanistan and all other foreign bases has found a receptive audience among war-weary Americans.

Even his non-interventionist stance on Iran - and claim to be unconcerned about that country's nuclear ambitions - does not worry his hard core supporters.

"I do not feel that they are going to try to bomb the United States. It's stupid," says Mrs Yourisom.

A 60-year-old Iowa state employee and former George W Bush supporter, she was switched on to the Paul cause by her son.

What would she do if she lost her job in Mr Paul's promised assault on government bureaucracy?

"So be it," she says.

Mainstream media blame

One subject from Ron Paul's past has come back to haunt him, however - a series of newsletters released under his name from the 1990s containing racist and homophobic comments.

The consensus among supporters at the Des Moines event seemed to be that Mr Paul was too much of a "nice guy" to have said such things himself and that the actual author would be exposed in due course.

They were also quick to blame the media for dredging up what they said were old allegations. Whether it will damage his campaign remains to be seen.

But Mr Paul's supporters never miss an opportunity to attack what they see as the bias of the big TV networks and the rest of the "mainstream media", who seem all-too-ready to dismiss Mr Paul as a fringe candidate and an entertaining sideshow to the main event.

Nick Styles, a former supporter of environmental campaigner Ralph Nader, is attracted to Mr Paul's civil libertarian stance.

"They are trying to make Ron Paul out to be a complete mad kook, a conspiracy theorist, just because he goes on certain radio shows.

"Even if they give him some credit, if they say some positive things about him, the political pundits, their final conclusion is that he just has no chance."

Mr Styles says he has friends in the Occupy movement who share his anger at what they see as the domination of the democratic process by powerful vested interests.

"I respect that people are waking up from their apathy," he says of the Occupiers.

Image caption This sign got its creator, Nick Styles, thrown out of a Ron Paul campaign event

But he has thrown his lot in with Mr Paul, rather than join the Occupiers, because of the strength of the congressman's arguments on the economy and, in particular, his promise to get rid of the Federal Reserve and return the US to the gold standard.

"We have to look into his philosophy a little bit more rather than just taking what he says and thinking it's crazy because it's so far out of the mainstream," he says.

Mr Styles did not get to see his hero in action on this occasion.

He was politely ejected from the hotel by a pair of burly security guards, who took exception to his home-made banner, which reads: "A Ron Paul win will discredit the mainstream media".

The 32-year-old chef does not seem too upset, however.

"I'm going to get it in there for the victory speech. I don't think they can kick me out of that."

With Mr Paul running second to Mitt Romney in many Iowa polls in Iowa - and with an army of committed supporters across the state ready to come out and vote for him - his wish might just come true.

With a long campaign ahead and doubts over the national appeal of Mr Paul's policies, though, even the candidate himself has admitted that a strong showing in the Hawkeye State is needed if the campaign is to keep up the momentum it has found in Iowa.

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