Michael D. Shear & Richard A. Oppel – New York Times December 31, 2011
Representative Ron Paul of Texas assailed criticism of his opposition to United States military involvement abroad, saying he fears an overreaction to worries about Iran’s nuclear program could lead to war.
Mr. Paul’s rivals have hammered him for days as too dovish and suggested that he would do nothing to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Mitt Romney again criticized Mr. Paul on Friday in an interview on the Fox News Channel, saying, “I don’t think Ron Paul represents the mainstream of Republican thought with regards to issues, particularly in foreign policy.”
Mr. Romney and other Republican candidates have said they would take military action if economic, diplomatic and other pressure did not prevent Iran from building a nuclear device, warning that Tehran could launch a first-strike nuclear attack on Israel.
Mr. Paul, though, stuck to his guns. Before a crowd at a public library in Sioux Center, he noted that others say Iran “might get a nuclear weapon someday, and wouldn’t it be good if we have a pre-emptive attack on Iran right now to make sure they never got a weapon.”
“I would say no, I wouldn’t do that, mainly because right now there are no signs they are” seeking to build a bomb, Mr. Paul said.
And if Iran did build a nuclear bomb, he said, “What are the odds of them using it? Probably zero. They just are not going to commit suicide. The Israelis have 300 of them.”
But Mr. Paul was also careful to say that the president is “obligated” to respond to an imminent attack on the United States. “You don’t have to wait until they have put their feet on our soil,” he said.
A new poll by NBC News released on Friday again showed Mr. Paul tied with Mr. Romney in Iowa, suggesting that the attacks on his foreign policy positions have so far had little effect. But polls have also showed that Mr. Paul’s opposition to American military intervention abroad is a major reason many Republicans give to oppose his candidacy.
Aides said Mr. Paul was scheduled to fly back to Texas on Friday night to spend the New Year’s holiday with his family before returning to Iowa to campaign on Monday with his son, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky.
In the meantime, Mr. Paul’s rivals continued their last-minute sprints across Iowa in the hopes of rallying support among an electorate that appears to remain open to persuasion.
Rick Santorum, who has seen his support rise sharply in several recent Iowa polls, was mobbed by reporters during an afternoon stop at a Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar in Ames, where patrons were gathered to watch Iowa State battle Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Despite a tiny turnout of only a few supporters and some angry yells of “sit down” and “we’re trying to watch football,” Mr. Santorum said he was encouraged by the new energy evidenced by the media scrum that now follows him.
“I’m a little bit surprised at the scale of the turnout here today — let me apologize to everybody here,” Mr. Santorum said. “No. It’s great.”
Mr. Romney left Iowa on Friday afternoon for a quick overnight jaunt to New Hampshire. But as he campaigned with Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey at a morning rally in Des Moines, Mr. Romney took a sharp jab at President Obama.
“He’s in Hawaii right now,” Mr. Romney said. “We’re out in the cold and the rain and the wind because we care about America, he’s out there. He just finished his 90th round of golf.”
Small crowds greeted Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota as she completed the final stops on her tour of all 99 Iowa counties. She has been running consistently in the single digits in polls in Iowa despite her heavy focus on the state. A “super PAC” supporting Mrs. Bachmann, No Compromise, tried to secure air time on KCCI, the CBS station in Des Moines, but was rejected because the station said the ad was too shoddy for network television.
Campaigning at Doughy Joey’s Peetza-Joynt in Waterloo, Iowa, Mr. Perry continued to criticize Mr. Santorum for seeking earmarks while in Congress.
“Please tell me why you asked taxpayers to support the bridge to nowhere in Alaska?” Mr. Perry said to the crowd.