His announcement Monday that he is suspending all active campaigning clears the way for the Republican flagbearer Mitt Romney, but it also comes with a caveat; he intends to make waves at the Republican nominating confab.
“Our campaign will continue to work in the state convention process,” he said, highlighting his dogged strategy of pursuing the all-important delegates to the convention in Tampa, Florida in late August.
“We will continue to take leadership positions, win delegates, and carry a strong message to the Republican National Convention that liberty is the way of the future.”
It won’t win him the nomination, but his delegate presence could be substantial enough to disrupt the event which formally crowns the nominee who will face off against President Barack Obama in November.
And should he ultimately win enough of them, Paul or a surrogate could earn a treasured speaking slot at the convention in order to push his platform of limited government.
Paul’s “effort to acquire delegates has always been to have a say in the platform and party rules,” Linda Fowler, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, told AFP.
“I think he has enough now to accomplish that goal.”
As a longshot contender Paul failed to win any of the 39 contests in states which have picked their election standard-bearer, but he has always acknowledged that his campaign has been a bit like tilting at windmills.
“Do I believe I can win? Yes. Do I believe the chances are slim? Yes, I do,” the congressman from Texas told CBS News in March.
Some of the stances of the unorthodox Paul, which include legalizing drugs, slashing military spending, ignoring Iran’s nuclear program and abolishing the US Federal Reserve, are anathema to many Republicans.
But his campaign, with a loyal and impassioned following which has focused on his stout defense of constitutional principles and individual liberties, electrified some young voters turned off by years of war and skyrocketing deficits, and his Republican rivals were forced to take notice.
“I don’t care about power, but I care about influence,” he said earlier this year. “And the best way you can influence a nation and move a nation is by translating this into political action that is successful.”
Paul, a 76-year-old obstetrician, has spent most of the last 36 years in Congress, and twice before ran for president, in 1988 as a Libertarian and four years ago as a Republican.
He has 99 delegates, well behind Romney’s total of 949, according to a count by RealClearPolitics. A candidate needs 1,144 delegates in order to be declared the nominee.
Romney could wrap up the nomination May 29 with a win in the Texas primary, but the Paul campaign insists his delegate tally is being underreported and that Paul’s ground game in states like Missouri, Maine and Nevada have helped them secure additional delegates.
Slightly built, professorial in style, Paul doesn’t exactly look the part of presidential contender, and was given little real chance of winning the party nod.
But party elders have been careful not to trample his ideas in case he makes a scene at the convention — or if he bolts altogether and launches a third-party presidential bid.
With the Libertarian Party cementing Gary Johnson as its candidate last week, however, many experts see an outside run by Paul as no longer viable.
“Running as an independent would require Paul to mount ballot-access efforts in each of the 50 states,” a commitment that would be “difficult and very expensive,” said John Pitney, politics professor at Claremont McKenna College.
Professor Michael Traugott of University of Michigan said the campaign of “ideological candidate” Paul had always been about principle, and that Paul will work to get one or two key planks — perhaps on fiscal policy — into the party platform.
“This campaign fought hard and won electoral success that the talking heads and pundits never thought possible. But, this campaign is also about more than just the 2012 election,” Paul said in his statement.
Romney’s two main challengers, religious conservative Rick Santorum and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, dropped out in April and May, respectively, and despite Paul’s persistent campaign Romney shifted weeks ago towards the general election showdown with Obama.