Ames, Iowa (CNN) - Texas Rep. Ron Paul proved that he is a leading contender to win Ames straw poll on Saturday by packing the venue with his rowdy sign-waving supporters.
“We have lost our enthusiasm for freedom!” said Paul, who donned a short-sleeved plaid shirt for the occasion.
The audience boomed with applause when the libertarian-leaning candidate blasted the size of the federal government, touted his opposition to abortion and called on government to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Paul said the country functions better "without the federal government down our backs and in our wallets."
The straw poll outcome hinges on how well each campaign can turn out their supporters to the ballot box.
Judging by the size of Paul’s crowd inside the Hilton Coliseum in Ames, which was nearly twice as big as the one that turned out to watch former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, he appears to be on track for a top finish.
Most observers believe Paul will finish in the top three, and could pull off an upset by winning the whole thing.