“He’s the one consistent candidate,” said Josie Nelsen, a 21-year-old industrial engineering major at Iowa State University. “He follows the Constitution.”
According to Edward King, Paul’s national youth-vote coordinator, the attraction can be traced to the novelty of Paul’s positions. “He’s got unconventional answers and real solutions to the problems that we’re facing,” King said.
But even the candidate himself is not sure: At a meet-and-greet in Boone, he explained: “I’ve been asking the question myself for a long time. . . . I talk a lot about freedom. It’s a young idea.” He noted that voters used to bring their kids to his events but that now he often sees kids bringing their parents. And yet the cause eludes him: “I don’t have a full answer for that.”
To be sure, Paul makes outlandish, bookish declarations for the most radical reforms, such as abolishing five Cabinet departments — demolishing them even, if his explosive ads are to be believed. To a generation who grew up steeped in news of war and economic instability, Paul offers quick fixes that save more than they cost. “I don’t think it’s your sacrifice if I bring the troops home,” he told a crowd in Ames. “I think it’s a blessing.”
Paul’s college appeal looks a lot like what an enthusiastic, favored professor might engender on any campus across the country. His staff and his questioners address him as “Dr. Paul,” though because of his MD, not a PhD, and his rally remarks are peppered with scholarly footnotes: Austrian economists who predicted the end of Bretton Woods monetary management system, the inflationary depression of Zimbabwe, the century-old dual mistake of creating an income tax and a Federal Reserve system. He decried regulations run amok, like bans on raw milk — which was red-meat rhetoric in the cattle-minded crowd — and hemp. “If you get high on hemp, you’d need a cigar as big as a phone pole,” he said. Cheers.
As other front-runners have soared and collapsed, Paul’s support has climbed steadily, particularly in Iowa.
“Temporary energy” is how one campaign adviser described the spiky prospects of rivals such as Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the latest front-runner, former House speaker Newt Gingrich. By contrast, Paul’s trajectory appears slow and steady, and “his focus is on college campuses because that’s where there’s so many open-minded people who are open to new ideas that are outside of the mainstream establishment that they hear from other politicians,” King said.
“Ron Paul doesn’t derive his support from the media, though it’s helpful,” King said. “But a lot of these other candidates live and die by the coverage they get. Just like many of these campaigns that have come and gone, one mistake and it evaporates immediately.”