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With Iowa upset in sight, Ron Paul battles skeptics

On the cusp on the nation’s first presidential contest of 2012 and with Ron Paul a threat to win the Iowa caucuses outright, the Texas congressman continues to insist that he is an electable candidate who should be taken seriously by voters and pundits alike.

At the same time, Paul’s writings and record are undergoing scrutiny like never before — one sign that he’s viewed in some corners as a threat to finish strong here and move on.

Paul appeared on two Sunday talk shows here to make his case to Iowa voters, who will caucus Tuesday evening, arguing that his support was growing despite a new Des Moines Register poll that suggested he was beginning to lose ground in the state to upstart Rick Santorum.

On ABC’s “This Week,” he disputed the notion that he’s a fringe candidate.

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“If I’m leading in the polls, that means I’m electable. I’ve been elected 12 times in Texas, when people get to know me. We’re doing well in the polls. Our crowds are getting bigger. And the people who are complaining are the ones who are way down in the polls, so they don’t have a whole lot of credibility about my electability.” (Video below.)

Paul might have been talking about the likes of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and — until recently — Santorum, all of whom of late have taken to repeatedly bashing Paul over his forgiving posture toward Iran.

Even amid the attention, it’s a frustrating time for Paul and his ardent admirers. If he doesn’t win Iowa, he’s dismissed yet again by the press as a cult figure. If he does, the focus will be on how a win by Paul might both de-legitimize Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status and end up helping to propel Mitt Romney to the nomination. At the same time, rivals such as Bachmann and Perry have centered their campaigns around shrinking the size of the federal government, which Paul has been advocating for years.

Paul argues that he, more than any candidate in the field, has the ability to attract independents and Democrats, potential disaffected supporters of President Obama. That’s another reason that critics, should he win, will be quick to call it meaningless, as Iowa allows any resident to register as a Republican on the spot and participate in the caucuses.

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“I think it’s — it’s a mistake if people want to write me off and say that I am not with the — with the people. As a matter of fact, it’s so appealing that we get a lot of independents and a lot of Democrats coming to our rally, and that’s what you need in order to win an election,” Paul said Sunday.

But with his rise in the polls have come new questions about the Texas libertarian. Paul was pressed about newsletters published under his name in the 1980s and 1990s, many of which endorsed extreme, conspiratorial or racist views. He has since disavowed the newsletters and repeated again Sunday that he did not write or edit them.

“I don’t know exactly who wrote them. It’s — you know, I had eight or nine people working for me back then. And a lot of people wrote a lot of different things. So I’ve condemned them and — and did not write them. And I’ve said this quite a few times,” Paul said. “On the issue of race relations, I’m the one that really addresses it. When we look at the drug war and the imprisonments, the court systems, the death penalty, the imbalance on the suffering of the minorities in our military, whether we have a draft or no draft.”

“And I think that people ought to, you know, look at my position there, rather than dwelling on eight sentences that I didn’t write and didn’t authorize and have been, you know, apologetic about, because it shouldn’t have been there and it was terrible stuff,” he added.

Asked by host Jake Tapper about whether he had ever espoused conspiracy theories involving the 9/11 attacks, Paul called the idea “nonsense.”

“I never bought into that stuff. I never talked about it,” he said. “That’s just off the wall.”

Paul called his failure to monitor the content of the newsletters a “human flaw.”

“I admit that I’m an imperfect person and — and didn’t monitor that as well. But to, to paint my whole life on that is a gross distortion, because we have to remember, I didn’t write them, I didn’t see them before that, and I have disavowed them. That to me is the most important thing,” he said.

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On “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace, too, confronted Paul about his past writings. Citing a book Paul wrote in 1987, he asked about a passage in which Paul wrote that an AIDS sufferer “victimizes innocent citizens by forcing them to pay for his care.”

Paul said he wasn’t being homophobic, but instead talking about the risks that come with sexually transmitted diseases.

“If a fault comes with people because of their personal behavior — in a free society, people do dumb things — but it isn’t to be placed on a burden on other people, innocent people, why should they have to pay for the consequences? I’d say a sort of a nationalistic or socialistic attitude,” Paul said. “But in a free society, people are allowed to act the way they, but they are responsible for their actions.”

Wallace went on to ask whether Paul believed in sexual harassment laws in the workplace and Paul made a clear distinction between a physical assault, against which the government should protect citizens, and “rude behavior.”

“So, you have to separate those two out. But because people are insulted by, you know, rude behavior, I don’t think we should make a federal case out of it. I don’t think we need federal laws to deal with that and people should deal with that at home,” he said.

Finally, Paul was quizzed about his record in the House. Critics such as Santorum have seized on Paul’s lack of legislative accomplishments to paint him as ineffective.

“The American people are sick and tired of Washington and the people who have been in charge have been passing all these bills and I’ve been voting no all of the time and vote no on these appropriation bills. So, I am the individual that has pointed out this,” Paul said. “So, of course, why would they pass my laws? I wanted to stop this a long time ago. That’s why I went to Washington for.

“But the tide has changed,” he said. “Now, the opportunity is there. And now, I’m a serious contender.”

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james.oliphant@latimes.com

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