SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- For just under an hour Friday night, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) held an audience of almost 300 Iowans spellbound as he gave a hopscotching speech that touched on a wide range of topics bound together by his libertarian-tinged conservatism.
Paul's passion to promote his beliefs and discourse at length on his philosophy of government may also explain why, instead of barnstorming the state like every other candidate, the 76-year-old politician is going home to Texas for the weekend, four days before Iowans caucus on Tuesday, when he is predicted to win or finish second.
Another reason for his departure may be that the Paul campaign is highly organized and expects to turn out their supporters by virtue of their efficiency, more so than candidate appearances. Or it may also be that Paul's support among voters has been capped at a certain level by a renewed interest in newsletters published under his name in the '80s and '90s that carried statements with racist sentiments toward minorities.
Whatever the case, top officials in Paul's campaign insisted that the candidate's absence from Iowa for two days ahead of the caucuses had nothing to do with a larger philosophical or strategic point of view.
"We built that into the plan. We campaigned pretty hard last week for two days, three days this week. We've got Jan. 2 and 3. I think it's the right amount of campaigning," said Drew Ivers, Paul's state campaign chairman.
The presidential candidate, in a full suit and tie unlike the other candidates who are campaigning in more casual attire, began his Friday night speech with a discursive assessment of U.S. foreign policy, including its recent history of foreign entanglements, and attacked the current culture of a "war fever" that he said makes it "easier for the government to undermine liberties."
Paul went out of his way to defend his "non-interventionist" view of foreign policy, which he said "has nothing to do with isolationism." And he talked for roughly 15 minutes about why his position is not one that will weaken the U.S.
"If you're fighting wars that make no sense ... it's not making us safer," he said. "It's making us more vulnerable."
He returned more than once to the issue of U.S. currency, arguing that the printing of dollars by the Federal Reserve is an attempt to get rid of sovereign debt through inflation, but in the process is destroying the value of middle-class Americans' savings.
He attacked the secrecy of the Federal Reserve: "One reason they don't want oversight is if we found out what they've been doing, they know their days would be limited, because people would just be furious about how they manage and take care of their friends, and they certainly did that in 2008 after the markets crashed," he said.
Then he jumped to the current problems in Europe with sovereign debt.
"The people who have been making the money -- and they're in trouble -- I would say, let them go bankrupt and not dump it onto the people," he said. "But that is the plan. The plan is in motion. They did it in 2008."
Paul spent the better part of 10 minutes near the end talking about the federal budget and what he would cut (the Department of Education and other federal agencies) and what he would not cut, if he became president (Social Security benefits and medical care for the elderly and indigent children). "If we don't cut spending, everybody's going to get hurt," he said.
But as Paul wrapped up his 55-minute talk, he came to the point of his third run for president, which seemed quixotic in 2008 and is still not taken seriously by many, yet has gathered enough support to be on the verge of winning the first contest in the primary.
"This is ideological. Ideas do have consequences. Ideas are changing," Paul said. "It isn't a numbers game. It has to do with determination and the rightfulness and truthfulness of ideas."
"I do not know what the future will bring, but I do know that a message can be sent. And hopefully a message can be achieved in this election, this campaign. Maybe on Tuesday, who knows?" said Paul. "I don't know what the results will be. But I am optimistic that we're moving in the right direction and that many people are awakening now to the need for more liberty and less government."
It is this ideological fight -- Paul's assault on the idea of an ever-growing federal government and federal budget -- that encapsulates why Paul is running, and explains why he has attracted such a following.
Paul's success in attracting substantial numbers of intensely devoted followers has led some to believe that he has a chance to become the nominee. Realistically, Paul still is a huge long shot -- at best -- because of the way in which his foreign policy views clash with those of many on the right and in the GOP.
But on Friday night there was no mistaking that for Paul, his ideas are what drive him. He was scheduled to take questions from the crowd but spoke so long that he had only time to shake a few hands.
"I have a confession to make: I talk too long," he said. "I hope I didn't bore you."
The crowd applauded to signal he had not.