With a New Year's Day poll showing Ron Paul in a three-way tie with Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum going into Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, who will emerge victorious is anyone's guess. If it's Paul, the conventional wisdom goes, he will owe much of his success to a weak Republican field and an adoring flock of disillusioned youth, hundreds of whom have traveled from out of state to work behind the scenes. But there's one other wild card: Paul's crossover appeal to liberals attracted to his anti-war platform.
On Monday morning, Ron Paul, introduced by his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, spoke briefly at a downtown Des Moines hotel. Afterward, several Paul supporters told me that they supported the candidate for opposing the National Defense Authorization Act, recently signed into law by Obama, which codified the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects arrested in the United States. Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, was in town for the Paul event. Later, at his nearby hotel where the Democratic National Committee houses its caucus-prep "war room," he watched occupy protesters echo many of the same complaints about the NDAA. "The only people in America who understand NDAA—I think it's fascinating—are Occupy Wall Street and Ron Paul supporters," Scarborough told me. "But you want to talk about the 99 percent—99 percent of Americans have no idea what this is all about."
Francis Thicke, an organic farmer from Fairfield, Iowa, who ran for secretary of agriculture on the state's Democratic ticket in 2010, announced that he would caucus for Paul on Tuesday "to keep his voice for peace and his voice to reduce the military in the debate, because he will challenge the other Republican candidates." Thicke told me that although a Democratic county chairman responded by telling him that he was "stabbing them in the back" by supporting a Republican, he would vote for Obama over Paul without a doubt, because he doesn't support dismantling the government. "This is a tactical thing" to expand voters' awareness, Thicke said.