Ames, Iowa — Rep. Ron Paul has crisscrossed the Hawkeye State for months, generating enthusiasm for his presidential campaign. But his efforts involve more than pressing the flesh. Paul, perhaps more than any other contender, has a plugged-in network of true believers — from Federal Reserve critics to constitutional conservatives — who communicate online, often sharing links and coordinating political activities outside of the official apparatus. Many within this sprawling movement began organizing for the Texas Republican three years ago, when Paul last ran for the White House. At the Iowa GOP’s straw poll on Saturday, which will be held on the campus of Iowa State University, the 75-year-old lawmaker will likely reap the benefits of their fervent exertion.
A Rasmussen poll released Monday shows Paul poised to finish near the top. He earned 16 percent support from likely caucus-goers in the survey, behind Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, but ahead of former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a potential candidate. The strength of Paul’s Iowa base was reflected in Rasmussen’s findings, which revealed that only 28 percent of probable caucus participants are “absolutely certain” of how they will vote, with many undecided Republicans planning to attend the event. Yet among those who are certain, Paul laps the field, with 27 percent of decided attendees in his camp.
In the final hours, Paul is making a hard push to get that number even higher. Along with 30 members of his extended family, who took a 17-hour bus trip from Texas to join him on the trail, he is hitting small-town street corners and the state fair in Des Moines. His son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a tea-party favorite, has been at his side. “We are seeing big crowds everywhere,” Senator Paul told me as he jumped onto the bus with his wife, Kelley. “In the middle of the day yesterday in Mason City, we had 120 people packed in there.” The crowd at an Ames hotel that morning was another large group, with Paul supporters cheering on the congressman over coffee and crispy lemon Danishes.