Rising in the polls, Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul drew at least 600 people to the Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf on Wednesday to hear a 45-minute speech on the ills of the federal debt, foreign wars and declining liberties.
The Texas congressman has been touring eastern Iowa the last couple of days, drawing large crowds. And he said things have changed from four years ago, when he finished fifth in the Iowa caucuses. "There's a lot of people like you that are waking up," he said.
Paul's crowd, which his campaign first estimated at 600-plus and later said topped 800, is the largest for a single candidate's event in the Quad-Cities this year. And though he didn't take questions from the audience, Paul's monologue drew several cheers and even one, "We love you, Ron."
After the remarks, he mingled with the crowd.
During his speech, Paul complained about American foreign policy, the $15 trillion debt and a culture he says rewards Wall Street, Washington, D.C., and politicians, leaving the middle class holding the bag.
"They're not hearing you. They're still piddling around. They're not cutting back anything. Have they shrunk the size of government? Are they advising that we bring these troops home and change our foreign policy - and at least get the Fed audited," he asked.
"Maybe someday we'll get rid of the Fed!" he added as the crowd erupted in applause.
Paul has proposed cutting $1 trillion out of the federal budget in a single year. Some of his rivals have called that unrealistic.
Even as Paul rises in some polls, many national analysts say they don't think he can win the nomination, a claim his campaign pushes back hard against. Still, party leaders in this area say he could very well win Iowa, though. "I don't see why not? There's four of them that are right up there," said John Ortega, a state central committeeman from Bettendorf.
That prospect has raised fears among some party regulars that a Paul win could endanger Iowa's traditional leadoff spot in the nominating calendar. One veteran party leader told Politico this week a Paul win would be "mortal" to the caucuses.
In an interview before the event, Paul shrugged off that notion. "I didn't know democracy was so bad. I didn't know that it was arbitrary, and it was only good depending on who wins," he said.
Bob Hughes of Davenport, who backed Paul four years ago, said he sees a better organization this time. Asked if he thought Paul can win the election, he said with a laugh: "I do now."