DES MOINES, Iowa - Four years ago, eighth-grade civics teacher Alex Hammer went to caucus for liberal Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and voted for President Obama in the general election. But tonight, he walked into the cafeteria of the Oak Park Elementary School here and changed his party registration on site to vote for Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
Hammer's decision was one that was repeated throughout Iowa, putting Paul in a dead heat to win the state's hotly contested caucuses. According to entrance polls, 25 percent of caucusgoers were Democrats or independents (up from 14 percent four years ago, when there was an active Democratic primary). Of the independents, 44 percent went to Paul, compared with 18 percent for Mitt Romney, who was the next-closest.
"I teach the Constitution," Hammer explained. "I'm just really impressed by Ron Paul's knowledge of the Constitution."
He said his support for Kucinich and Paul, though often on the other side of the ideological spectrum, was consistent because, "I just think extreme problems call for extreme solutions."
He also described both candidates' anti-interventionist foreign policy views as a "huge" factor for him.
"Dwight Eisenhower spoke of the military-industrial complex, and I think that has come to overpower everything in Washington in both parties," he said. "He's a Republican, but he's outside that box. That's what we want. Somebody who is outside that box."
A number of voters at a small caucus site here in the Democratic-leaning Polk County changed their party registration upon arrival, and the crowd was overwhelmingly in favor of Paul.
Michelle Sneed, who traveled from Austin, Texas, with her husband, spoke for her state's governor, Rick Perry. But three different people rose up to speak in favor of Paul. And none represented other candidates.
Overall, 44 people participated in the vote, with Paul getting 24, Rick Santorum getting seven, Perry getting four and no other candidate receiving more than three votes.
But Paul's support wasn't exclusively from party changers. Valerie Schultz, a Republican who served as secretary for the caucus site, said she was happy Paul did so well.
"I really like his commitment to following the Constitution, and I especially like his integrity," Schultz said. "A lot of the congressmen have taken money from PACs and lobbyists, but Ron Paul has never done any of that."