SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is at or near the top of polls in Iowa, where he's drawing big crowds and has an enviable campaign organization. But with Iowa's caucuses on Tuesday, the Texas congressman plans to head home for the weekend, the latest evidence of an unconventional approach to winning the GOP nomination.
From his low-tech events and his relatively small entourage to his reluctance to glad-hand voters, the 76-year-old Paul has stubbornly adhered to his own campaign playbook with seemingly little regard for the calendar or the shifting dynamics of the GOP field.
The rest of the contenders braced for a grueling weekend of campaign events. Paul, however, planned to fly home late Friday night to spend the weekend with his wife, Carol. He was set to appear on several Sunday morning talk shows from Texas, and was scheduled to return to Iowa by Monday morning for a "whistle-stop" campaign tour with his son, Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican.
"He's a family man and he wants to spend time with his family," said Paul's Iowa campaign chairman, Drew Ivers.
Leaving Iowa just three days before the kickoff nominating contest of the 2012 election is one of many quirks that set Paul's campaign apart from the more traditional presidential hopefuls.
Paul's schedule is a model of efficiency. Events start on time, and he delivers the same remarks at each one, no matter the location or size of the crowd. He speaks favorably of Iowa's importance in the nominating process but never forcefully asks audience members for their vote.
His venues are typically stark - no bunting, no music, no booming sound system. Voters sit quietly, as if listening to a university economics lecture.
Paul never strays from his message of limited government, free markets and the importance of the Constitution, even when the moment might call for a different approach - like when a 10-year-old autistic boy asked Paul on Friday what he might do to help children like him.
"The most valuable resource for children, teenagers, college kids and adults is liberty. If we protect those liberties we will have the maximum amount of progress," Paul said. Later, he assured the boy he did not plan to slash health care for children or the elderly if elected.
Paul has refused to engage rivals like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, even as they have stepped up their criticisms of his foreign policy views and his lack of legislative accomplishments in Congress. He also rarely criticizes President Barack Obama, insisting that both parties are responsible for excess spending and debt.
He saves his attacks for campaign commercials and interviews. He told Bloomberg News on Friday that he might not be able to support any of his rivals because they embraced the status quo in Washington.
"If ... they don't want to change anything on foreign policy, they don't want to cut anything, they don't want to audit the Fed and find out about monetary policy, they don't want to have actual change in government, that is a problem for me," he said.
Paul travels with a small band of trusted advisers including a son-in-law, Jesse Benton, who doubles as his campaign chairman. Two of Paul's adult granddaughters, Linda and Lisa Paul, have also joined him in Iowa.
Carol Paul has made only limited appearances with her husband, showing up at debates and other major events.