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Paul Courts Press, Attacks Republicans

The Libertarian tells voters there's no difference among his rivals.

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Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Ron Paul's 2012 campaign has been characterized, unexpectedly, by basic media savvy. Aware that his 2008 image of an outsider leading a band of freaks didn't play particularly well to the base, he's layered a normal presidential campaign on top of the sometimes-fringey movement he leads, a tactical move that matches the reality that the Tea Party revival broadened his appeal.

The easiest media move of the day: Paul held a rally in the Des Moines Marriott, temporary home to hundreds of reporters and to the default reporter bar.

Paul, introduced by his son Rand, railed against the Patriot Act and against his Republican rivals.

"You don't have to worry about the choice if you pick another candidate because they all represent the status quo," he told the packed ballroom.

Fighting through the crowd afterwards, though, it was difficult to tell who among these people were Paul supporters, who media, who tourists come downstairs to check out the action. In the tourist category, more or less, was Iowa Republican Chairman Matt Strawn, who looked a bit pained when asked about Paul's attacks on Republican candidates but stayed diplomatic.

"I want to be sure we have a nominee who has been through the fire and is battle tested," he said, in defense of the waves of friendly fire.

State Rep. Kim Pearson, one of four supporting Paul, was also there. She had not backed Paul in 2008, though she did vote for Libertarian Party candidate Chuck Baldwin for president that year. She said the perception that Paul is a fringe figure has faded since then.

"His message is getting out," she said.

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