Texas Rep. Ron Paul emphasized his pro-life views during his Straw Poll speech in Ames this afternoon as a means to build on his tea party and libertarian base ahead of a key test vote in Iowa. Paul did not get the top score but the former obstetrician certainly passed by finishing in a close second place. The Representative's success suggests that the beliefs which Paul has championed for the last 35 years have perhaps finally begun to shift in acceptance from fringe to mainstream. ABC News caught up with Paul's team following Saturday's success:
“'Dr. Paul’s finish earned him a strong second place and it was the fourth highest vote total ever received by a candidate at the important test of candidate strength,' campaign chairman Jesse Barton said in a statement immediately after the results were released. 'Dr. Paul is surging in this race, and today’s results show the strength of his grassroots support and top notch organization.”
Paul finished less than 200 votes behind top vote earner Michele Bachmann. A strong showing considering Paul was not setting high expectations as late as Wednesday, telling voters in Waterloo that he would not be happy but could reasonably see himself finishing fourth, fifth or sixth in Saturday's straw poll.
Most commonly known for his strong libertarian opinions in regards to economic policy and the protection of civil liberties, the Republican presidential candidate said on Saturday that government cannot play God and make decisions on abortions. Paul emphasized that "all life is precious" and must be defended.
The early emphasis on social issues before common Paul talking points on monetary and foreign policy was no accident reports POLITICO:
"But the most important piece of Paul’s Iowa operation was outreach to the social conservatives who play such a critical role in the state’s Republican electorate.
'The missing link for us, the outreach to evangelicals, which is so key to South Carolina and the south — we’re filling it,' said Wead, speaking to POLITICO in between announcements on Paul’s stage.
Wead told POLITICO that the outreach included mailing 5,000 DVDs of Paul to pastors in Iowa before Saturday’s events. And it relied heavily on a new team of evangelicals who are backing Paul. They include Wead himself and also Brian Jacobs, who used to work with Rev. Billy Graham. Jacobs spent the days before the Straw Poll calling pastors throughout Iowa."
Rep. Paul also highlighted his opposition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the PATRIOT Act in Saturday's speech. He says the United States cannot defend liberty abroad while denying U.S. citizens their own rights. Rep. Paul called U.S. foreign policy misguided, and repeated his call to audit the Federal Reserve.
How important will the close second place finish in Ames be for the Paul campaign moving forward? The representative and his staff told POLITICO:
“'Obviously,' senior Paul strategist Doug Wead told POLITICO Saturday when asked if an Ames victory would mean more than other straw poll wins. 'We have the statements of all these other candidates, Romney on down about the importance of the Ames vote. Even those who are saying it’s not important now, they’re on the record saying it’s important.'
'Relatively speaking, yes that is true,' Paul told POLITICO after his speech here when asked if winning at Ames was more important than previous polls he’s topped. 'It can give you a boost in morale, and encouragement — for me, it’s always a vote for the endorsement of the views of the concerns of liberty.'”
Rep. Paul has focused on Iowa this time around, especially after finishing fifth in the same poll when he ran for president four years ago. The Paul campaign was the first to have an office in the state, and Paul has visited at least once a week since announcing his candidacy in May.
The Paul campaign is set to open a New Hampshire state headquarters Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.