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Ron Paul enjoying momentum in uncertain Iowa caucuses

Republican presidential candidate Rep. RPaul R-Texas accompanied his sSen. RPaul R-Ky. campaigns Steeple Gate Inn Davenport IowMonday Jan. 2 2012.

Republican presidential candidate, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, accompanied his son Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. campaigns at the Steeple Gate Inn in Davenport, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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Updated: February 4, 2012 11:45AM

DES MOINES — White House hopeful Ron Paul is ending his long Iowa campaign on a roll, positioned to do well in Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation vote. If he wins, it may jeopardize the future importance of Iowa in the presidential election cycle.

Not used to crowds, Paul told a packed Marriott hotel room here on Monday, “this is almost like a real rally.”

No matter that most of the seats in the front were taken by out-of state political tourists or high school and college students on campaign study trips. They got a dose of Paul, a Texas House member, who was introduced by his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

“Anybody here want government to mind its own business?’’ the senator said.

His father picked up on the theme. Said Ron Paul, “There’s one issue that has made America great, and the issue that you can answer all your questions on is individual liberty,” he said.

Campaigning for Tuesday’s caucus vote has produced roller-coaster polls, because no GOP rival emerged as a solid, sustained favorite. Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) seem poised for a win, place or show — with predictions all over the place as to the order.

“It’s the first real test of actual voters. Voters have been searching for the ideal candidate,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, in an interview. “I think they have now come to the conclusion nobody is perfect. But we have to choose the one we think is the strongest.”

Iowa has an outsized influence in the presidential nominating process; the number of Republicans expected to caucus in the entire state is about that of the Chicago suburb of Naperville, which has a population of 141,853. Predictions range from 100,000 to 150,000 showing up

Romney is in good shape Tuesday night if he comes in one, two or three — provided that Santorum and Paul are ahead of him. Romney is on a trajectory to win the Republican presidential nomination under a variety of scenarios.

Newt Gingrich, Romney’s main rival, has been hit with negative ads produced by Romney-allied forces — the so-called “SuperPacs.” Gingrich told CNN on Monday night, “I don’t think I am going to win.”

Gingrich has been complaining about the attack ads, though it’s hard to figure that he did not see them coming. Did he think that because he proclaimed he was going to run a positive campaign that somehow his opposition was going to give him — and his sitting-target record — a pass?

Santorum has surged after months of retail campaigning in each of Iowa’s 99 counties selling his social conservative views. Paul has caught on with a dedicated base of conservatives who like his isolationist, anti-war and anti-government views.

But on many issues, Paul is on the fringe. He was seen as so anti-Israel that the Republican Jewish Coalition refused to invite him to a presidential forum in Washington a few weeks ago that featured every other GOP presidential contender.

He doesn’t see the point for laws against sexual harassment and thinks its your problem if you have AIDS, no matter how you got the disease. He had a role in a newsletter with articles seen as racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic.

“You can dismiss Ron Paul, but you got to pay attention to what he is saying,” said David Yepsen, the former Des Moines Register political columnist who is now the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

“He has tapped into something among young people. I think he has tapped into ... the isolationist spirit that exists in the Midwest. People here are sick of those wars, and they want the troops to come home,” Yepsen said.

The recent Iowa record is mixed. In 2008, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee won Iowa — he was a favorite of evangelicals and social conservatives — but Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) claimed the GOP nomination.

Paul is just unelectable. A Paul win could make the GOP Iowa electorate seem so out of step with the rest of the nation that is would raise the question of their future role in choosing presidential nominees.

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