OSKALOOSA, Iowa -- One unscientific ph test of a campaign's health is the size of its crowds. Another, possibly less unscientific test, is the presence of reporters in the room. While Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is trailed by more than a dozen national media outlets, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)'s visit to Smokey Row coffee here drew a few local reporters, the Washington Examiner, and the Washington Post. And the first question was about Paul's low standing in polls.
"No, no, no, no -- let's stop!" said Paul. "Nobody knows where the race is."
While other faded candidates have shed staff (Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee) or insisted that momentum is coming their way (Carly Fiorina), Paul has insisted for weeks that his ground game will shock people. Yesterday, at a public birthday celebration in Des Moines, he announced that more than 1,000 people had agreed to lead precincts for him in the Feb. 1 caucuses. Nearly two-thirds of the state's 1,681 precinct caucuses would feature a Paul representative, arguing the case for Republicans before the votes were cast.
"We maxed out at around 600 precinct captains for Ron Paul," said A.J. Spiker, a former Iowa GOP chairman who's now a chief strategist for Rand Paul in the state.
In an interview before the Oskaloosa stop, Paul promised that his precinct captains would supply "more energy for the caucus than is being reported" could make the argument to libertarian-leaning voters -- in a state that gave his father more than 20 percent of the 2012 caucus vote -- that frontrunner Cruz would disappoint them.
"I think a lot of the Cruz voters may well become dissatisfied with him," said Paul. "He's changed on every issue. He's said on NSA reform that he's voted to end bulk collection, but he's voted for complete collection. He's for carpet-bombing. Our job will be pointing out some of his flip-flops as he tries to please all of these different audiences -- probably the most noticeable one is the renewable fuel standard."
Paul did not immediately cite Cruz's birth in Canada as an issue for his precinct captains. But when pressed, he repeated what he'd been saying on talk radio: That obviously, this was a problem.
"It's not my choice to litigate it," said Paul. "Rep. Alan Grayson's already said he's going to file a suit, so it's going to be decided by the courts. It's going to be part of the discussion. The only thing that's been decided by the courts, I believe, is that a person born in U.S. territory is a citizen of the United States. Unless you think Canada is U.S. territory, Cruz was born in a foreign country."
In Oskaloosa, when the Examiner's Al Weaver posed the question again, Paul hit all of the same notes. The high-minded criticism of Cruz would happen in tandem with the questions about his birth.