Ron Paul, once seen as a fringe candidate and a nuisance to the establishment, is shaping the 2012 Republican primary by giving voice to the party's libertarian wing and reflecting frustration with the United States' international entanglements.
The Texas congressman placed second in a key early test vote Saturday in Ames, coming within 152 votes of winning the first significant balloting of the Republican nominating contest. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota won the nonbinding Iowa straw poll, but Paul's organizational strength and a retooled focus on social issues set him up to be a serious player in the campaign.
"I believe in a very limited role for government. But the prime reason that government exists in a free society is to protect liberty, but also to protect life. And I mean all life," he told a raucous crowd on Saturday.
"You cannot have relative value for life and deal with that. We cannot play God and make those decisions. All life is precious," he said, opening his remarks with an anti-abortion appeal to the social conservatives who have great sway here in Iowa's leadoff caucuses.