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Ron Paul : Can he pull off an upset in Iowa?

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Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has so far been the Rodney Dangerfield of the GOP presidential field — he got exactly 89 seconds of speaking time in the last debate.

View Photo Gallery: Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), who has built a loyal following among libertarians, is running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

So, while he is rightly considered a proto-tea party figure, laying down libertarian, anti-government approaches to major issues long before there was a tea party, he still gets no respect.

(As Paul says in a recent ad, he’s been talking about these problems for a long, long time.)

But a new Bloomberg News Iowa poll, showing the Texas lawmaker in second place behind Herman Cain, suggests that this might be Paul’s moment, at least in Iowa.

On Wednesday morning, Paul delivered a keynote speech to the Cato Institute’s annual monetary conference called “Monetary Reform in the Wake of Crisis” in Washington. He bashed not only the Fed but the congressional supercommittee’s task of reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years.

“The biggest thing we face financially is this huge debt, it’s not a lack of revenue,” Paul said at the speech. “And if we ever got serious, we would have to cut spending.”

Paul’s fingerprints have been all over the policies that have been outlined by his rivals, including Rick Perry, whose tough talk about Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was of a piece with Paul’s longstanding call for eliminating the Fed — his push to audit the Fed is now Republican Party orthodoxy.

Paul’s close second-place finish behind Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) in the Ames Straw poll and his string of victories in other smaller contests speak to the powerful and passionate base he has managed to organize and maintain.

The Bloomberg poll, based on a survey of 503 likely Republican caucus-goers, shows that the most critical issues to GOP voters are government spending, reducing debt and the economy — strong issues for Paul — while hot-button social issues like gay marriage and abortion rights are viewed as less critically important.

But Paul, who attracts legions of young, loud, and tech-savvy supporters, has another key edge in Iowa, where a ground strategy is critical to winning the caucuses: 67 percent of respondents have had some contact with the Paul campaign, according to the poll, while by comparison, only 29 percent have had some contact with the Newt Gingrich campaign.

While Gingrich, Cain, and Mitt Romney, who are in a four-way race with Paul in Iowa, all get more air time in debates, Paul might be on his way to building a slow, steady lead in the Hawkeye State. Could that lead to an upset victory?

“In Iowa, it looks like we are one of the few campaigns with a real serious organization,” said Gary Howard, national press secretary for the Paul campaign. “We have good fundraising all over the place.”

The campaign has about ten paid staffers throughout the state and a slew of volunteers who have been knocking on doors and making phone calls.

In the coming weeks, the campaign will likely go on the airwaves with a new ad, Howard said, and will double down on their flood-the-zone strategy.

“We have to do something to counter the lack of airtime in debates,” Howard said. “He does need to get more time in these debates, but reaching out on the ground is more important.”

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