Steve Chapman
DAVENPORT, Iowa -- No one in this year's race has spent more time running for president than Ron Paul, who before entering the Republican primaries in 2008 and 2012 was the 1988 nominee of the Libertarian Party. And no one runs for president quite the way Paul does.

His town hall meeting is in an auditorium at the Figge Art Museum, which an audience of some 100 people has filled on a sunny fall afternoon. Other candidates may arrive to thumping music, but Paul gets a simple introduction as "the Thomas Jefferson of our day."

Others may affect shirtsleeves or cowboy boots to show their connection to ordinary folks, but the 76-year-old Paul wears a business suit. He doesn't tell jokes or pay homage to local politicians. When he is done, he leaves without stopping to shake hands or pose for photos.

Paul is the only Republican contender who can speak for more than an hour without attacking President Barack Obama by name or invoking Ronald Reagan. His rivals are running political campaigns. Paul has bigger fish to fry.

"I've had a strong message for a long time, and I've been talking about it for many, many years if not decades, but it seems like the message of liberty is more appropriate now than it has been in a long, long time," he says.

Style is the least of the ways in which the candidate departs from convention. Paul delights in two principal habits: taking un-conservative positions that are anathema to the other candidates, and taking conservative positions further than the other candidates would dare.

Today, he is intent more on the latter, criticizing the federal government for bailing out financial institutions, running up debt and meddling in the economy. "It's time to change policies and quit spending so much money," he says, to hearty applause.

Paul has unassailable credibility on the issue, having earned an "A" from the National Taxpayers Union every year he's been in Congress going back to 1997. While other Republican members of Congress were approving swollen budgets under President George W. Bush, the retired obstetrician was validating his nickname: "Doctor No."

He has released a plan to slash federal spending by $1 trillion -- not over four years or 10 years, but in one year. He would reach that goal by, among other steps, abolishing five Cabinet departments. Total number of departments abolished by the past two Republican presidents? Zero.

Rick Perry may utter ominous warnings to Ben Bernanke, but no one is more critical of the Federal Reserve than Paul. He objects not just to its recent conduct but to its existence.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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