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MEREDITH

Paul: Message trumps strategy

Crowd crams into town hall event

Ron Paul doesn't think much about his own campaign's strategy and doesn't like going after his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, preferring to spread his message and let the voters decide, he said after a town hall meeting in Meredith yesterday.

"It's not the most fun for me to have to say, 'Don't you know he did this and he did that?' " But, he added, his opponents are "all very close together philosophically, and I think the country is looking for something completely different."

He said he won't be concentrating on bashing any particular opponent in the last day before voting begins in the New Hampshire primary tomorrow.

"When it comes to strategy, I rely on the people that do that. . . . I'm gonna concentrate on my message, that's what," he said.

The Texas congressman's message is one of broad changes, and he hit on a wide variety of topics at the Meredith event, where more than 400 people crammed into - or were turned away from - the conference room at Church Landing at Mills Falls.

He defended himself from attacks that his spending cuts would decimate the country's defense, saying his proposals would instead rein in the CIA and overseas nation-building.

"I don't want to slash defense. I want to slash the military industrial complex. There's too many people making too many profits doing the wrong thing," he said.

The event moderator, state Sen. Jim Forsythe of Strafford, asked that ardent Paul supporters cede the floor to undecided New Hampshire voters. He had made the same request at an event Friday night in Durham.

Those voters seemed particularly concerned with Paul's proposals to do away with large swaths of the federal government.

He said reducing the size and cost of government would give more people the financial ability to make charitable donations and support the sick and indigent in their communities.

"There was a time in the '50s and early '60s, people were not lying out in the street not getting medical care. Charities and hospitals stepped up," he said, pointing to President Lyndon Johnson's introduction of Medicare and Medicaid as ruining health care and replacing it with "corporate medicine."

"It's not socialized medicine, but it's not a whole lot better," he said.

One man said his daughter is sick and will soon not be covered on her parents' health insurance.

"Will she have to wait in line at a charity hospital?" he asked Paul.

"She'll have to wait in line under Obamacare, that's for sure," he answered, before drifting into a long, twisting answer about how a completely free market-based health care solution would improve the system.

Until the day the market is completely free, Paul said - reiterating a note he's struck repeatedly during the last week - he wants to preserve the benefits of people currently dependent on the government.

"It's messed up. In order to save the medical care system from total bankruptcy we should all come together with looking at overseas spending that has nothing to do with national defense," he said.

Some of his biggest applause lines of the day featured foreign policy.

With at least two dozen Hasidic Jewish men distributing fliers promoting an anti-Zionist philosophy against the state of Israel, Paul found vocal support for his proposal to cut all foreign aid - to Israel and all other countries.

"I would want to maintain a very close relationship with Israel. I want to be a good friend to Israel. . . . But I do not believe that I should take money from anybody here and send money to Israel," he said.

A few dozen of Paul's ardent supporters - one of whom shaved the politician's name into his hair, others who made T-shirts with his name or likeness on them - stayed for photos and autographs, and to listen to and record his interactions with the media after the town hall.

David Grant of Salem had a long drive home and wanted to get started right away, but that didn't mean he wasn't a supporter, he said.

Grant was undecided until just a few weeks ago, after his teenage son urged him to consider voting for Paul.

As he was leaving the event, he said he didn't regret his decision and is growing stronger in his own support.

"I like the simplicity of his message about the streamlining of government and the return to the precepts of the Constitution. It's probably the most no-nonsense of all the platforms," he said.

In his search for the perfect candidate over the last few months, he said, he researched the campaigns' online disclosures of financial contributions.

Mitt Romney's donations, for example, "look like a who's who of American banking."

That worries him, he said.

"Whoever pays the piper calls the tune."

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com.)

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