Ron Paul greeted by overflow crowd first day back in Iowa

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DES MOINES, Iowa-- Ron Paul's first public event in Iowa since the release of a Des Moines Register poll putting him within striking distance of Mitt Romney was so packed that workers took down a dividing wall at the downtown Marriott's Salon D ballroom. Supporters as well as national political reporters lined up to cover the action.

"This is almost like a real rally!" the Texas congressman told the crowd at the event, which had been billed simply as a "whistlestop."

The Des Moines Register poll, released this weekend, showed Paul 2 percentage points behind former Massachusetts Gov. Romney (22 to 24 percent) in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa ahead of Tuesday night's vote. (The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.) Monday's Marriott throng reflected the fresh jolt of energy behind the Texas congressman's campaign.

Monday's speech was packed with media celebrities, including MSNBC's Joe Scarborough; Bret Baier of Fox News; Joe Klein of Time; Dana Bash and Soledad O'Brien of CNN; Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times' David Brooks and CSPAN's Steve Scully.

Some 150 chairs and all of the press risers were filled a half-hour before the event was scheduled to begin, prompting organizers to remove the room's sliding wall.

"The enthusiasm is growing by leaps and bounds and crowds are getting bigger," Paul said. He chalked up some of the growing interest--and the growing coffer of campaign donations that's come with his new visibility on the trail--to his anti-war stance and a desire to bring troops home from Afghanistan. Paul added, however, that his growing appeal all comes down to a single message.

"As far as I'm concerned, there's only one issue," Paul said. "There's one issue that has made America great, an issue that you can answer all your questions on is individual liberty."

"We want our privacy back!" he said to wide applause from the receptive crowd.

"Ron Paul! Ron Paul!" the standing-room only crowd chanted, thrusting their hands in the air and waving signs. (Paul joked that if they chanted the entire time, he wouldn't get a chance to speak.) "Preach it!" some yelled.

Paul was introduced at the event by his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who highlighted what he felt to be his father's best qualities: never "flip-flopping" or accepting a single congressional junket; pledging his commitment to balance the budget in his first term and to cut $1 trillion in spending during his first year in office; going directly after conservatives on the charged issue of cutting military spending; and soliciting strong support from active members of the military. Finally, the younger Paul stressed that he views his father as incorruptible.

Ron Paul spoke for just 10 minutes, but members of the crowd told Yahoo News that they were satisfied to be a part of the action.

"It's one thing to see him on television or an ad, but it's another thing to see him in person," Zander Morales, a local student, said.

Though many Iowans in the crowd said they planning to participate in Tuesday's caucuses, a good number of the Paul supporters on hand said they were from out of state: a Minnesota family on Christmas break; a busload of Cincinnati, Ohio high school students on a school trip. Others, such as Morales, were local students who can't participate in the caucuses because they're not Iowa residents or registered to vote in the state.

Just one man raised his hand when reporters asked if any of the first 20 seated attendees were from Iowa.

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