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Ron Paul Begins Iowa Barnstorm With Packed Rally

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DES MOINES – Ron Paul organizers took down a wall in their Marriott Ballroom Monday to accommodate an overflowing crowd of supporters on the eve of the Iowa caucus. The new super-sized room was filled wall to wall with Paul enthusiasts, media elite and political tourists from out of state, as the Texas libertarian sits within reach of a victory tomorrow.

Introduced by his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Paul ran through his platform of individual liberty, withdrawal from Afghanistan and reform of the Federal Reserve system.

Celebrities and media were on hand including Time's Mark Halperin and Joe Klein, Fox News' Bret Baier and Carl Cameron, New York Times columnist David Brooks and ABC's Terry Moran.

Paul, perhaps sensing victory, slightly moderated a stump speech line that generally gets the loudest applause: His insistence that the Fed should not just be audited, but ended entirely, guilty as it is of creating bubbles and distortions in an economy he says would run more smoothly without central bank interference.

"Not only do we want to audit the Fed, we want to," Paul told the crowd, hesitating slightly, before finishing, "make sure that we have something much better than the current Federal Reserve System" The implication was the same, if the rhetoric was toned down.

Paul’s first and loudest applause line, rather, came in response to his call for an end to the war in Afghanistan. Paul is counting on the type of enthusiasm evident here to catapult him to victory.

But unlike a typical campaign, the crowd here was not assaulted by hordes of campaign volunteers collecting emails, phone numbers and addresses to make sure that those who showed up here will also show up tomorrow night. Partly, the hands off approach is a reflection of Paul's focus on personal responsibility and individualism; the campaign wants supporters to self-organize. But it's also an expression of the confidence Paul has that his backers are energetic and committed enough to find their way to their precinct without his help.

That’s certainly the case for Mike and Becky Wachtel, 57 and 55, who both "held our noses and voted for [John] McCain" in 2008, in Mike's words. Mike has seen Paul 10 times, Becky nine. "Ron has enlightened us about a lot liberties we’ve lost," Mike said, naming a bill President Barack Obama signed New Years Eve that will allow the military to detain American citizens indefinitely.

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