Young Ron Paul volunteers descend on Iowa

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, cheer as he campaigns at the Iowa State Fair Grounds in Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Charles Dharapak

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul
Charles Dharapak

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

NEWTON, Iowa -- As they waited for a bus dubbed the "Constitution Coach" to pick them up at the Des Moines airport and bring them to their makeshift lodgings late Tuesday, about two-dozen college-aged Ron Paul volunteers mingled in the cold night air.

The sudden appearance of a reporter's notebook and tape recorder drew comments befitting a group of young people who proudly wear their skepticism on their sleeves.

"What's the article you're going to be writing, man?"

"Yeah, what's the spin, bro?"

Asked where they had flown in from, the answers ranged from California to Virginia -- with one twenty-something purporting to have made the trip from Brazil to help Paul win the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday.

Unsure of what exactly they would be assigned to do, the eager foot soldiers who had signed up online and paid their own way here said they were prepared to phone-bank, knock on doors, speak at caucus precincts, or do basically anything that is asked of them.

When a volunteer noted that he was not authorized to speak to the media, one of his new friends quickly corrected him. "No, you can," he said. "You haven't signed anything yet."

Members of the group confirmed that they were told by the campaign they would have to sign agreements that would bar them from talking to reporters. A spokesperson for the Paul campaign did not respond to an inquiry about the restriction and declined to provide an estimate of how many out-of-state volunteers were expected in Iowa down the homestretch.

Throughout a 20-minute chat about their efforts, the volunteers frequently steered the conversation back to their level of dedication.

"What other candidate has this many people coming in from out of state?" one of them asked, noting that she had raised the money for her plane ticket to Des Moines.

No one could doubt their enthusiasm, but these young supporters nonetheless face a steep challenge in building a winning coalition of rank-and-file Iowa Republicans and nontraditional caucus-goers, while avoiding comments that might turn off either group.

Though several of them were eager to extol Paul's support for drug legalization and opposition to the CIA's targeted drone strikes in Pakistan, none mentioned the candidate's pro-life credentials that have been a focal point of his TV advertising campaign here.

Still, 25-year-old Brennan Westerson of Santa Rosa, Calif., said he was confident he could help persuade traditional Republican voters here -- many of whom are firmly within the senior citizen demographic -- to get behind Paul.

"They were college kids once," he said. "We're idealistic and we have a lot of passion, and maybe since they're older, they're wanting to revisit something like that."

Westerson said that he was first drawn to Paul because "he was a Republican who was talking about the wars, and that was cool to me."

Standing beside him, a young man who first declined to give his name but then identified himself as "James Smith" interjected frequently to opine on Paul's foreign policy views. In the process, he projected unabashed confidence about how he could make the case for the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman.

"We're going to be arguing the case of liberty," he said. "It's pretty easy just to talk about being left alone."

Asked about the controversy over 1990s-era newsletters published in Paul's name that promoted extremist and racially charged views, none of the young volunteers said that the issue made them reconsider their devotion to the candidate.

"His positions are more important," one said.

Another questioned whether there was really anything anti-Semitic in the writings, as has been widely charged, noting that Paul's GOP opponents were "demonizing" the nuclear ambitions of Iran -- a country that he said merely wanted "to take control of their power, or at least not use their dirty oil, which can't be even refined into gasoline."

With less than a week to go till the caucuses, the candidate himself echoed many of his young supporters' talking points during a town-hall meeting Wednesday at the Iowa Speedway, as he was in no mood to downplay his noninterventionist foreign policy positions.

Many Iowa Republicans have warned that the more Paul talks about his beliefs on defense and international affairs, the more difficult his prospects of winning the caucuses become.

But Paul nonetheless spoke eagerly and at length on topics ranging from how the Peace Corps was not authorized by the Constitution to questioning the continued American troop presence in South Korea, despite the potentially perilous leadership transition in North Korea.

"It's time to unwind the wars," Paul said to the packed room, his voice rising with passion. "Stop the wars, stop the spending, bring our troops home."

The line earned applause from his supporters in attendance, both young and old.

But it remains to be seen how Paul's now heavily scrutinized positions on foreign policy and other hot-button issues will resonate with traditional GOP caucus-goers as they make their final decisions in the days ahead.

  • Scott Conroy On Twitter»

    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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