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Personal blue-jean democracy appeals to many

JOHNSTON IA - JANUARY 03:  A woman positions balloons Stoney Creek Inn where Republican presidential hopeful former U.S. Sen.

JOHNSTON, IA - JANUARY 03: A woman positions balloons at the Stoney Creek Inn, where Republican presidential hopeful and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) will be when the results of the Iowa caucus are announced, on January 3, 2012 in Johnston, Iowa. The GOP presidential contenders are crisscrossing Iowa in the final stretch of campaigning in the state before tonight's caucus, the first test the candidates must face before becoming the Republican presidential nominee. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

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Updated: March 12, 2012 3:55PM

ANKENY, Iowa — The Iowa caucuses are unvarnished, blue-jean-clad democracy.

In the white-painted cinder block Crocker Elementary School in the suburb just north of Des Moines, Rep. Ron Paul showed up in person to plead for votes. Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent his son. And Rep. Michele Bachmann sent a son and a daughter.

Just because Paul was there himself, being mobbed by voters who wanted to take their picture with him, didn’t mean he was going to be able to jump ahead in the line of speakers. The moderator’s plan was to go alphabetically, and he stuck to his plan.

“We have surrogates here for everyone except Jon Huntsman,” the moderator announced. “If someone wants to be a surrogate for Jon Huntsman, please step up.”

Army Col. Mike Steele, up from Georgia to speak as a delegate for Newt Gingrich, wisecracked he would take the spot as Huntsman’s surrogate, “And I hereby donate all my support for Jon Huntsman to Newt Gingrich.”

Steele warned the 500 attendees not to send “some mealy-mouthed guy to Washington [who’s] afraid to step on somebody’s toes . . . I can’t wait to see Newt Gingrich debate Barack Obama and pummel the Democrats.”

Caroline Bachmann likewise asked voters to “support my mom” because “You don’t have to question where she stood, where she stands or where she will stand in November.”

Finally, Paul, who had been cooling his heels at the side of the stage, was invited up to give his standard plea to govern based on the Constitution, which says nothing about printing money.

“If we followed the Constitution, we’d only have gold and silver,” he said. A conservative president would launch fewer wars, not more, Paul said. He would not be preparing to invade Syria or Iran as the current administration appears to be preparing to do, he said.

Attendees politely applauded, some enthusiastically. As he stepped off the stage, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a one-time potential presidential candidate himself, enthusiastically shook Paul’s hand.

Then Thune got up to speak as a surrogate for Romney, after Griffin Perry said a few words on his father’s behalf.

Finally, dental equipment specialist Steve Farni spoke on behalf of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a graduate of Carmel High School in Mundelein.

“We don’t need a compromiser — what we need is a warrior,” Farni said to applause.

John Hartog, 75, a professor at the Faith Bible Baptist College said that’s why he supports Santorum: “He doesn’t waffle.”

All the candidates and surrogates pledged “limited government.”

As the votes were counted, Andrew Metz, 45, a finance project manager, thanked Thune for helping him make up his mind with an “electability” argument for Romney. Metz had been undecided as he walked in to the caucus, he said.

The final numbers: Ron Paul 137; Mitt Romney 131; Rick Santorum 118; Newt Gingrich 64; Rick Perry 59; Michelle Bachmann 26; Jon Huntsman 1; undecided 1.

The moderator asked that people not interested in sticking around to conduct the party’s other business leave the gym quietly.

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