Presidential candidate Ron Paul seems to be raising the stakes for his finish in next month’s Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll. 

“I wished I could say I’m the front-runner and nobody’s ahead of me and it’s a shoe-in,” Paul said this morning. “But the truth is that we can do and will do very, very well and hopefully come in first.” 

Rival Michele Bachmann is now calling herself an “underdog” in that upcoming competition, while Tim Pawlenty says, win or lose, the Straw Poll’s outcome won’t decide whether he’ll stay in the race. Paul spoke to about 100 people this morning in Ames — the city that will host the Straw Poll festivities. Paul called his Iowa supporters a “unique” group of “driven” people. 

“Voting in the Ames Straw (Poll), when you think of it nationally…since you get so much attention and can make-or-break some people in campaigning, it’s worth a lot more than a hundred individuals voting, it could be to a thousand of votes for (just one person) to show up and vote and make a difference in a race,” Paul said. “That’s why I’m here…That’s why I think the Ames Straw (Poll) is important.”

With the stakes so high, the war of words between the two Minnesotans in the presidential race has escalated. Pawlenty’s campaign accuses Bachmann of doing little more in congress than make speeches and offer amendments that fail, while Bachmann’s camp then accused Pawlenty of being an advocate of bigger and more intrusive government. Paul suggests Bachmann and Pawlenty are currently engaged in a “style versus substance” debate.

“But I see the other candidates all in one group, who do not come out and explicitly say what we must do and what the nature of our problem actually is,” Paul said this morning in Ames.

Paul campaigned in Cedar Rapids this afternoon.  His son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, arrives in Iowa later this week for a bus tour around the state to promote his father’s campaign.