Two things were evident from Dr. Ron Paul's (R- Texas) visit to Iowa City Tuesday morning:
1.) For a Republican, Ron Paul is a surprisingly popular candidate in Iowa City.
2.) Ron Paul is putting a lot of emphasis on doing well in the upcoming Ames Straw Poll.
They had to bring in more chairs to meet the demand in downstairs meeting room of the Sheraton Hotel in Iowa City, as around 100 people crowded in to listen to Rep. Paul speak. The mood in the room was positive and enthusiastic, and there was applause as Paul took the stage.
In between Paul's usual rhetoric denouncing foreign entanglements, government restrictions, lamenting the loss of gold standard for American currency and the loss of personal freedoms for Americans and markets (all popular topics with the crowd), there was another theme that was readily apparent -- the importance of the Straw Poll to the Paul campaign.
Paul told the audience that the Straw Poll is not a meaningless exercise, and although the campaign finished a surprising 5th in 2008, his ambition is much higher this time around.
"We're bound and determined to do better," Paul said.
Paul told the audience that he would be saddened by the result if he finished worse than third in the Straw Poll.
As if to emphasize this point, a man associated with the Paul campaign greeted everyone who was in line to meet the Congressman after the speech, offering a handshake and repeating the mantra.
"Are you going to the Straw Poll?"
"If so, bring a friend if you can."
"It really is going to be a historic event."
For their part, the crowd, a healthy cross section of Republicans, Independents and even a few Democrats, seemed pleased with Paul's speech, especially his emphasis on ending foreign wars and restoring personal freedoms.
Paul told the crowd that while it is easy to blame President Obama for the country's problems, the real problems have existed long before. He said his goal would be to return the United States to a state more consistent with the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.
"I would not be a president who wanted to rule the world, I don't want to run your life, and I don't think anyone can run the economy," Paul said, to big applause from the audience.
When Paul was asked by Iowa City Patch if he felt it was a positive that he was so popular in a college town he said that it was.
"I think it's great for the freedom movement," Paul said.
He added that he has worked with very liberal members of Congress before, and that it is not about compromising beliefs, it is about working on issues where they can find common ground.
Zach Townsend, of Iowa City, said he was a former Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but he now considers himself more of a Libertarian. He said Paul's speech resonated with him.
"I realized after I voted that (Obama) followed the same policies that (George W.) Bush did."
Townsend, who is looking for a job at the moment, said he has a stake in the improvement of the economy.
Elaine Olson, a retired school teacher and political Independent from Cedar Rapids, said she was impressed by Paul's knowledge and experience.
"I think he's very ethical, he's experienced and he's shown he can govern," Olson said.
When asked what she thought as a teacher of Paul's oft stated desire to eliminate the Department of Education, she said she wouldn't mind that.
"They (the Department of Education) aren't doing anything worthwhile anyway," Olson said.
John Shackelford, a software engineer and Independent from Cedar Rapids, said he likes Paul's frankness in the midst of a political debate that often is devoid of substance.
"He tells it like it is and he has the voting record to back it up," Shackelford said.