CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Ron Paul proved he could draw crowds of college students. Now he's going for their grandparents.
On an eight-city tour of eastern Iowa on Wednesday and Thursday, Paul spoke to hundreds of voters, many of them grey-haired retirees who said he is their only choice for president. While he has repeatedly attracted large crowds of college students -- 1,300 people showed up at a Dec. 8 event at Iowa State University -- this tour showed Paul has some sway with the older members of the electorate, whom he may need to win the caucuses on Jan. 3.
Barb Davis, a 74-year-old retiree who lives in Manchester, said Paul is the only candidate who can bring the United States back from the brink of disaster. The others? "Pffft," she said, pointing her thumb down. Her husband, Walt, is 76 years old, the same age as Paul, but the couple said they wish Paul were younger so he would have more time to change government.
They're committed to Paul, and have been since 2008, which Barb proved with her Paul '08 button on her shirt. If he does not win the nomination, Barb and Walt said they will write in his name.
"If he doesn't make it, just bid the U.S. goodbye," Davis said at a Thursday afternoon event in Manchester, Iowa. "We're going to go under. Someone up there needs to read Revelations in The Bible."
Paul says he can appeal to anyone -- whether old or young, Democrat, Republican or independent -- because of his message of liberty. He stays on message during speeches, talking about the need for small government, major spending cuts and shutting down the Federal Reserve. The audiences on his tour, which were often gathered in large conference rooms that were expanded further to fit more people, cheered for his plan to cut $1 trillion from the budget, restart trade with Cuba and stay out of issues overseas.
He acknowledges in his stump speech that his fan base is growing. After thanking college students and youth for their support during a Wednesday speech in Bettendorf, Iowa, Paul joked that most of the crowd "might not be considered college students."
"But for those, they're young at heart and believe in liberty," he continued. "So we're all in this together."
Many Paul supporters have something else in common: they say they would rather vote for Paul as a write-in or Independent candidate than support another Republican nominee.
So far, Paul has given no indication he will run as a third-party candidate, but some of his supporters are hopeful. If he does runs as an Independent, though, it could be disastrous for Republicans. A poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found that 21 percent of registered voters surveyed would support Paul in a match-up between Romney and Obama, which could allow the president to edge out his Republican opponent. Support for Gingrich also dropped when Paul was presented as a third-party option, according to the poll.
But Paul is also drawing away some support from President Barack Obama. Bob Curler, a 74-year-old retiree, is a long-time Democrat who plans to caucus with Republicans for the first time on Jan. 3. His Republican daughter and grandson, Sue and Joe Schueller, invited him to come to a Thursday event in Dubuque.
"I agree with a lot of things he says," Curler said after Paul's appearance, adding that Social Security and health care are two of the most important issues he is considering. Even though he voted for Obama in 2008, Curler said he is almost certainly going to vote for Paul in the caucus.
"We're hoping to get him to come with us," Sue Schueller interjected.
Many Paul supporters said that voting for another candidate in the general election would go against their values. The two other front-runners, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, are seen by many Paul supporters are too inconsistent and only out for themselves.
Even if they would vote for other Republicans in a general election, supporters said it would be with apprehension.
"I'd hold my nose, like I did for John McCain," Andi Rays, a 72-year-old homemaker and retiree, said at Paul's Thursday speech in Manchester. "They're liberals."