CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Can Texas Rep. Ron Paul win in Iowa despite newsletters published under his name that included controversial statements about blacks and gays?

For months virtually ignored by political experts, the longtime Texas congressman has surged to the top of polls Iowa, which will hold the first votes in the GOP primary process on Tuesday. But he has been dogged in recent weeks by the controversy over the newsletters from 1980s and 1990s, which Paul says he did not write. They included a variety of controversial claims, including the idea that “95 percent” of black men in Washington, D.C. were “semi-criminal” and that Martin Luther King Jr. “replaced the evil of forced segregation with the evil of forced integration.”

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Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses will illustrate how much, if any, damage Paul sustained from the attention on the newsletters. Polls here show effectively a three-way tie between Paul, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and ex-Penn. senator Rick Santorum. His rivals, while not specifically making reference to the newsletters, have suggested Paul would lack the broad appeal required to win a general election and should not be nominated.

Campaigning with his son Rand, who is a senator from Kentucky, Paul on Monday said little about the controversy. Instead, with a crowded packed with young men under 30, as many of his events are, Paul repeated his anti-war, anti-government message.

His audience, unlike those of many of the candidates, included almost no one wasn’t sure who they are voting for, as nearly all were passionate Paul supporters. And they say the newsletters’ controversy, and Paul’s other unusual views, such as his criticism of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, would not stop him from winning the GOP nomination, or a race against President Obama.

“The media and his opponents are going to dig up stuff,” said Q. Williams, a 26-year-old who had come in from Dallas to campaign for Paul. “But he didn’t even write them.”

Tom Garthwaite, who lives in this area and planned to vote in the caucuses for Paul, also dismissed the newsletters.

“If I had website and somebody put something on it, that doesn’t mean I wrote it,” Garthwaite said.

The polls tell a different story. Santorum and Romney have both gained while Paul has stalled in polls since the controversy emerged. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has attacked Paul on the newsletters, while Santorum has blasted him for calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr