Texas Rep. Ron Paul received a welcome befitting a man with a suddenly serious chance to win next week's Iowa Republican presidential caucuses as he arrived in the state Wednesday for a final burst of campaigning.
His rivals attacked him.
If the 76-year-old libertarian-leaning conservative was bothered, he didn't let it show. He unleashed a television commercial that hit former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In his remarks, he lumped all his rivals into one unappealing category.
"There's a lot of status quo politicians out there," he told a few dozen people who turned out to hear him at the Iowa Speedway. "If you pick another status quo politician, nothing's going to change."
Paul got a welcome surprise when Iowa State Sen. Kent Sorenson, the state chairman of rival Michelle Bachmann's campaign, announced Wednesday night that he was throwing his support to Paul, just hours after Sorenson had appeared with the Minnesota congresswoman.
Sorenson said he was switching because Paul was the most conservative of the top-tier candidates.
Meanwhile, another rival appeared to be on the rise.
According to public and private polls, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is gaining ground. "We have the momentum," he proclaimed.
A CNN/Time/ORC International poll of likely caucus-goers ranked Romney first with 25 percent, followed by Paul at 22 percent, Santorum at 16 percent and Gingrich at 14 percent.
For months, Romney has been near or on top of the polls in Iowa, as Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, businessman Herman Cain and Gingrich rose briefly to challenge him.
Paul's surge represents the latest threat, and in some respects, the unlikeliest, coming from a man whose views on abortion, the war in Iraq, Iran and other issues are at odds with those of most Republicans.
But his anti-government appeal appears to tap into the desire of a frustrated electorate for profound change in an era of high unemployment.
In his remarks, Paul drew applause when he said, "I want to cut $1 trillion out of the budget the first year" and eliminate deficits in three.
"The debt is unsustainable once it reaches a certain point," he said. "My whole effort is to face up to it."
Paul suggested the United States withdraw its troops from Asia and drew laughter from the audience when he noted President Obama's announcement that Marines would be deployed to Australia.
"How long do we have to stay in Korea? We've been there since I was in high school," he said, making no mention of the recent death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the resulting uncertainty about the nuclear-armed nation.
Nor did he refer in his remarks to his recent statement in a debate that he would not consider pre-emptive military action to block Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
His rivals were not reticent about discussing a nuclear Iran.
"You don't have to vote for a candidate who will allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth, because America will be next. I mean, I'm here to say: You have a choice," Perry told an audience near Des Moines.
"I'm very uncomfortable with the idea that the commander in chief would think it was irrelevant to have an Iranian nuclear weapon," Gingrich said.
Romney also took a poke at Paul. "One of the people running for president thinks it's OK for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I don't," he said in response to a question in Muscatine.
Santorum also attacked. Acknowledging voter anger amid high unemployment, he said: "If you want to stick it to the man, don't vote for Ron Paul. That's not sticking it to anybody but the Republican Party."