DES MOINES, IOWA--When Ron Paul took the stage at a social conservative forum here last Saturday, virtually half the audience left their seats. Some used the moment to sneak off to bathroom, while others made their way to the back of the room, hoping to score face time with one of Paul's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination.
It's easy to understand why many in the assembled crowd regarded Paul's speech as necessary viewing. The Texas congressman hasn't made social issues a key part of his 2012 campaign, choosing to focus instead on his libertarian message of smaller government, monetary policy reform and a re-tooled foreign policy.
But Paul has tweaked that strategy in recent weeks--especially in Iowa, where social conservatives make up an influential part of the GOP voting electorate. Paul, who placed a close second to Michele Bachmann in August's Iowa presidential straw poll, is aiming to broaden his appeal beyond libertarian-minded fiscal conservatives by directly appealing to pro-life and faith-driven voters in hopes of scoring a surprise win in the state's Jan. 3 GOP caucus.
In town halls across the state in recent weeks, Paul has gone out of his way to mention that he is anti-abortion. And he's recast his push for smaller government as a "family" issue.
On Saturday, Paul cited a litany of Old Testament scripture as proof of the dangers of not controlling spending and becoming "too dependent" on the government, likening it to an episode in the Book of Samuel when the Israelites suffered after they embraced authoritarian power.
"If government gets too big, the family is undermined," Paul told voters at Saturday's Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition forum. "We need more family values and more governance by the family--not by the United States government."
In a question-and-answer session after his remarks, Paul reiterated his pro-life convictions, reminding voters he believes life begins at conception. He also vowed, if he wins the presidency, to ensure the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, and said he would allow states to determine abortion laws, not the federal government.
"As an OB doctor, I know when life begins," Paul said. "If I do harm to a fetus, I can be sued."
Paul's beliefs aren't new, and he's used many of these lines before in his second bid for the White House in 2008. This time out, however, he and his campaign have placed a pronounced emphasis on social issues heading into the heat of the primary season.
Earlier this month, Paul launched an anti-abortion ad called "Life." The spot features Paul talking about a late-term abortion he saw performed when he was an obstetrician; he recounts seeing a moving fetus thrown in a bucket. Paul previously told voters the same story at the Iowa straw poll, but this time, Paul speaks directly to the camera, interposed with shots of a him holding a newborn and the tiny feet of a young baby.
"Who are we to decide that we pick and throw one away and pick up and struggle to save the other ones?" he asks in the spot. "Unless we resolve this and understand that life is precious and we must protect life, we can't protect liberty."
The minute-long ad has been getting major airplay throughout Iowa, including a spot at the top of the 10pm newscast in Sioux City—a region heavy with evangelical voters.
You can watch the full ad below, courtesy of the Paul campaign:
Paul's push to gain ground among social conservatives comes as early polls in the state show the voting bloc largely divided among other contenders, including Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. If Paul can shave off at least some of that support, his campaign hopes he can eke out a surprise victory in the state—or at least a good enough showing to give him momentum in other early-voting states.
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