Ron Paul’s 60-minute appearance in Muscatine, Iowa, was interrupted frequently by applause. A truck in the parking lot sported this bumper sticker: “I supported Ron Paul before it was cool.” (Mike Ferguson/Muscatine Journal)

Mike Ferguson

CLINTON, Iowa — Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul said Tuesday he would work toward maintaining Social Security and cut overseas military spending to “keep the promises made” to senior citizens, as he trekked through eastern Iowa seeking to build support for his candidacy.

Paul met a packed room at Clinton Community College here, calling for a smaller government and a dramatically smaller military footprint overseas.

Paul, a congressman from Texas, is running a more aggressive Iowa campaign than he did in 2008, and he said Tuesday his level of support is “exploding.”

Answering a question from a woman on Social Security, Paul said the country has an obligation to put a high priority on programs “where we have taught people to be dependent,” including those for the elderly and children’s health care.

Paul has called Social Security unconstitutional, but he appeared to reject the idea of making major changes right away. He added, however, “we could work for an even better system as time goes on.”

Instead, he said, cutting foreign military spending could help Social Security.

“I want that money cut and that money spent here back home,” he said.

Social Security has been a major sticking point in the GOP primary, as Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called it a Ponzi scheme, drawing fire primarily from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Paul also defended his foreign policy views, which have been criticized by some of his rivals. He opposed and has criticized the war in Iraq. But he rejected the label “isolationist,” instead calling himself a “non-interventionist.” He said he favors trade with other countries but would bring all soldiers stationed overseas back to the United States.

Paul has polled far behind a Perry and Romney, but his second place finish in the Ames Straw Poll in August has emboldened his campaign. And his supporters.

Rachael Vopatek of DeWitt said she backs Paul and thinks others would if he is given a fair hearing.

“I hope more people start to listen,” she said.

Not all were supportive, however. Jerry Richter, a registered Democrat from Charlotte, said he went to listen but “didn’t hear anything about jobs.”

Later Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of 150 supporters filled Muscatine’s Riverview Center to greet the congressman. Among them were four Palmer College of Chiropractic students who asked the career physician about the role of chiropractic and alternative medicines in American health care. Paul said provider choice must be a patient, not insurer or government decision. The answer elated students Jonathon Verderame, Bryn Asby, Dustin Gorman, Ben Tapper and his wife, Kathy. 

“We knew where he’s coming from, but it was great to hear it,” Verderame said.

Paul also campaigned Tuesday in Dubuque before attending the Story County GOP chili supper in Nevada.