This year, the Anderses are behind Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who supports drastically shrinking the federal government and closing the Education Department.
In a year when the Republican field is unusually fractured, with front-runners coming around as often as carousel ponies, Mr. Paul’s ability to mobilize niche groups like home-schoolers may make a big difference. His campaign, which has won a number of straw polls and is picking up momentum, has demonstrated its ability to organize and mobilize supporters, which is particularly relevant in Iowa, where relatively small numbers can tip the scales in the caucuses.
For his part, Mr. Anders was looking forward to a meeting with a Paul campaign staff member to strategize “how we can go to work for Ron Paul.”
“Home-schoolers are really independently minded,” Mr. Anders said, estimating that most of the 10 other families in his Saturday morning coffee club in Council Bluffs, Iowa, supported Mr. Paul. “He believes the federal government has no role in education, as most home-schoolers will agree.”
Home-school families are among the lesser-known converts to Mr. Paul — along with small-business owners and voters well past college age — who have helped him build support beyond his fierce core of followers, often young people.
His support has usually added up to less than 10 percent in surveys of likely Republican primary voters.
But now, thanks to the best organized grass-roots campaign in Iowa and heavy spending on television advertisements that portray him as consistent while other Republicans have flip-flopped, Mr. Paul is breaking through that ceiling, giving rise to a once far-fetched scenario — that he might win the state’s caucuses on Jan. 3.
“I’m buying Ron Paul today,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director for the Republican Party of Iowa, who on Wednesday sent a Twitter message saying, “Ron Paul’s Iowa Campaign Office was abuzz at 8 p.m. tonight when I drove by on my way to the bank. Impressive.”
Two state polls this week show him in a statistical tie for first. One, released Monday by Bloomberg News, showed Mr. Paul winning 19 percent of likely Republican caucus voters, within the margin of error with Herman Cain, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
The Bloomberg poll showed that about two-thirds of Iowa respondents had been contacted by the Paul campaign by phone, e-mail or a knock on the door, more outreach than any other candidate.
“We’ve been out-hustling the other campaigns,” said Jesse Benton, Mr. Paul’s national campaign manager.
Because of strong fund-raising from small donors on the Internet, the campaign has been able to saturate the Iowa airwaves with ads. It has outspent all others — $2.5 million on TV and radio commercials in Iowa and New Hampshire (where a Bloomberg poll had Mr. Paul in second place this week behind Mr. Romney). It plans to spend $4 million more before the voting in those two states begins in less than two months.
The ads highlight Mr. Paul’s message of deep cuts to government spending and conveniently avoid his isolationist foreign policy, which risks turning off undecided voters.
Chuck Walsh, who works for his family’s G.M.-Toyota dealership in Carroll, Iowa, is a recent convert to Mr. Paul.
“I don’t think I was his core type, the young college type,” said Mr. Walsh, 42, a volunteer firefighter and veteran of the Persian Gulf war. He voted for Mr. Romney in 2008 and was leaning toward him again this year, but he changed his mind because the federal government, he said, needs more drastic cuts than Mr. Romney proposes.
Mr. Walsh felt squeamish coming out as a Paul supporter. “The reaction is, ‘Oh, the guy is fringe, he’s crazy,’ “ he said. “People tell me, ‘You’re throwing away your vote.’ I said to myself: ‘Chuck, you wore the uniform, you fought for the right to vote. If you’re voting with your heart, I don’t think you’re throwing away your vote.’ “
In making his third run for the presidency, Mr. Paul, 76, has benefited from the splitting of the social conservative vote in Iowa among a number of candidates, and from the fact that this year jobs and the economy trump concerns over abortion and same-sex marriage.