NEWTON, Iowa - Less than a week before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, rising GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul is finding himself under intense scrutiny for inflammatory statements published by his newsletters decades ago about blacks, homosexuals, and America's "disappearing white majority."
While most of the remarks were publicized during his presidential bid four years ago, they are getting more attention now that polls have him close to the top in the Iowa contest. Paul dismisses the criticism, and he stalked out of a recent CNN interview when pressed on his responsibility for the newsletters' content.
So far, the revelations give little sign of undercutting his backers' support of his candidacy.
The controversial statements are in political and investment newsletters Paul published in the 1980s and '90s. A 1992 issue of the Ron Paul Political Report said order was restored in Los Angeles following the Rodney King race riots "when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks," according to documents published by The New Republic. Another issue linked the AIDS epidemic to "hyper-promiscuous sodomy" practiced by homosexuals, saying gays were "far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities."
An issue of the Ron Paul Survival Report worries about America's "disappearing white majority." Another defends the late chess champion and Holocaust-denier Bobby Fischer.
Paul, the libertarian-leaning congressman from Texas, has denied penning the treatises, which were published without a byline, or even having read them. But he stood silent Wednesday while reporters asked about the newsletters as he entered and left a campaign forum.
While campaigning in New Hampshire last week Paul brushed the controversy aside and characterized the attacks on him as "politics as usual." He has also refused to disavow the support he receives from extremists, including white supremacist and antigovernment groups.
''Nobody talked about it for 20 years until they found out the message of liberty is making progress," Paul said. "Everybody knows I didn't write them and they're not my sentiments."
The revelations and criticisms from other GOP candidates - Newt Gingrich has said he would not vote for Paul if he becomes the GOP nominee - have done little to diminish Paul's large crowd of ardent followers. At a Newton town hall Wednesday, hundreds, as usual, packed the media center at the Iowa Speedway. Many of Paul's fans, even his younger, more mainstream supporters who have grown up in a more diverse society, seem to brush aside his ties to extremists and hate groups.
''For someone who doesn't know much about Ron Paul all they hear now is that he's a racist," said Tom Trettin, a 20-year-old Tulane University student who is home in Newton for the holidays and plans to caucus for Paul next week. "But if there were a man in the Republican primary you would not feel is a racist, it has to be a man of libertarian values who believes everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. The newsletters are regrettable but he wasn't personally responsible."
Trettin's brother, William, a 19-year-old student at the Naval Academy, said Paul has done a poor job of refuting the allegations against him, but his failure to adequately explain himself will not affect the brothers' votes.
''He needs to make it really easy for people to understand what the mix-up is," said William Trettin. "He seems more like the smart grandpa they made run an election rather than a politician."
Like most other Paul supporters, the Trettin brothers said they are drawn to Paul for his consistent message of limited federal government and his no-nonsense yet nice-guy demeanor.
"For us being from a small town, people like the fact that he seems like someone you could run into and talk to and just get to know," said Tom Trettin.
Paul, however, has not always denied writing or even reading the material in his newsletters, which he profited from. When Texas newspapers reported some of the statements about blacks during his 1996 congressional campaign, Paul denied being a racist but defended the statements, saying they were taken out of context.
Reuters recently uncovered a 1993 solicitation bearing Paul's signature to get people to subscribe to his newsletters. The eight-page letter also warns of a "coming race war in our big cities" and of a "federal-homosexual cover-up on AIDS."
Gingrich, in a CNN interview this week, called Paul's newsletters "totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American" and said "there will come a morning when people won't take him as a serious person."
The New York Times has also reported that members of white nationalist and anti-Zionist groups like Stormfront and American Free Press are actively supporting Paul's campaign. Paul told the Times that he would not be happy to find his volunteers embracing racist views, but did not disavow their support.
''If they want to endorse me, they're endorsing what I do or say - it has nothing to do with endorsing what they say," Paul said.
In addition, Paul is also being accused of anti-Semitism for a recently publicized 2009 interview with journalist Jeffrey Shapiro in which Paul said he did not believe it was a "moral imperative" to send US troops against Nazi Germany during World War II to save the Jews.
''I wouldn't risk American lives to do that," Shapiro quoted Paul as saying. "If someone wants to do that on their own because they want to do that, well, that's fine, but I wouldn't do that."
Paul's campaign Wednesday night dismissed charges he is anti-Semitic: "Dr. Paul is the most pro-Israel candidate in this race. He is the only leader who will stop sending tens of billions of dollars in aid and arms to her Arab enemies, cut off subsidies to companies who do business with Iran and allow Israel to defend herself as she sees fit, without the permission and interference of the US. or the United Nations," said the campaign in an e-mail.
None of the accusations appear to bother Iowa supporters.
''It's not really an issue," said Phil Holland, a 31-year-old plumber from Monroe who attended the Newton town hall with his wife, Amber. "It doesn't affect my vote ... He's a front runner so obviously they're going to try to find any reason to go after him."
Jeremy Spice, a 23-year-old rubber factory worker, and his girlfriend, Sarah Howe, a 31-year-old hospital custodian, drove eight hours from their Fort Wayne, Ind., home to hear Paul speak Wednesday. Spice sports a red and black Paul "Revolution" tattoo on his left forearm. Howe has a smaller version tattooed on the back of her neck.
Spice said he does not believe Paul is racist because the candidate has spoken out in the past about how minorities are unfairly treated by the criminal justice system.
''Ron Paul wants to change that," Spice said. "That's why I don't see him as a racist in any way, shape or form. Plus, just look at the polls. He's still rising."