DES MOINES — Note to other GOP candidates: If you want wall-to-wall press coverage of a campaign speech, hold a rally in the lobby of the downtown Marriott, the main media hotel.

View Photo Gallery: Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

In a packed ballroom, the Pauls — Ron and Rand — packed them in: reporters wielding notebooks, high school students on a field trip, out-of-towners, and plenty of folks who vowed to show up tomorrow and caucus.

They got a double dose of Paul, whose son seems perfectly posed to take over his 76-year-old father’s legacy of support, which has grown over the last caucus but could be headed for a ceiling.

Here’s what’s clear about the Texas congressman’s supporters.

First, they are a motley crew. Libertarians, disaffected Democrats, anti-war liberals, small-government conservatives, pro-lifers.

They are mostly male, overwhelmingly white.

Some are senior citizens, some are young people who like piercings, tattoos and goatees.

And they like Ron Paul. They really, really, really, really like Ron Paul.

They yell his name, pump their fists, clutch his books, and whip out Bible references, because there’s apparently just no other way to describe him.

“To me, he’s my Noah,” said Sharlene Dunlap of Des Moines. “He’s been saying there’s a flood coming for 30 years.”

On stage, Rand Paul said his dad was the right man for these big-government times.

“Anybody here want their government to mind their own business?” Paul said, as the crowd erupted with a singular, testosterone-heavy “YEAH!” “There is only one candidate who has never been accused of flip-flopping ... my father, Ron Paul!”

It took Ron Paul 30 years to matter in Iowa. Yet his son is already on the map in a big way — he is the first Tea Party senator.

Which causes some to wonder where he might be headed next.

“Rand Paul is a chip off the old block, he stands for the same things Ron Paul stands for,” said David Kaniuk of Pleasant Hill. “If Rand Paul wanted to go for president, I would look into supporting him.”

And out came the father, refreshed and ready after a 36-hour break from the trail.

“Tomorrow is a very important day,” Paul said. “It’s small in numbers, big in importance.”

Paul offered this litmus test for the GOP contest.

“Do they really care about personal liberty?” Paul said, the answer to the question in his skeptical tone.

The next generation is here today, Paul said, wrapping up his 15-minute speech.

And with that he was done, walking off the stage to a chorus of his name.


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