With a projected second place finish in New Hampshire, Rep. Ron Paul's (R-Texas) campaign for the GOP nomination continues to outperform his 2008 bid, complicating efforts by Mitt Romney's rivals to consolidate opposition to the former Massachusetts governor.
Paul's message of individual liberty played well in the Live Free or Die State, as Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, stumbled badly in the few days leading up to the vote. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who'd been hoping a second-place finish or last-minute upset would catapult him to top-tier status, is likely to finish third, a result that would outpace the two men Romney see as his most formidable opponents, former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
(You can follow the results live as they come in here.)
Paul, in a speech to supporters Tuesday night, said he called Romney and told him he was "nibbling on his heels."
Paul is one of the only remaining candidates who can compete with Romney in the race for cash, largely due to his national base of ardent grassroots supporters. That poses a problem for any candidate looking to quickly lock up the nomination.
But it could also spell trouble in the general election. If Paul decides to run as a third-party candidate, he could siphon votes away from both parties. Such a run would provide a third choice for disaffected voters who want to protest President Barack Obama and his handling of the economy but who don't like Romney.
Paul told HuffPost's Howard Fineman earlier this week that he hadn't decided whether to launch a third party bid. "I'll decide that later," he said.
In New Hampshire, Paul played nice with Romney, while his rivals attacked him as a soulless corporate raider who takes pleasure in handing out pink slips.
"Two important issues that should unite Republicans are a belief in free markets and an understanding that the media often use 'gotcha' tactics to discredit us," his campaign said in a statement. "Rather than run against Governor Romney on the issues of the day Santorum, Huntsman, and Gingrich have chosen to play along with the media elites and exploit a quote taken horribly out of context."
"They are also using the language of the liberal left to attack private equity and condemn capitalism in a desperate and, frankly, unsavory attempt to tear down another Republican with tactics akin to those of MoveOn.org," the statement continued. "Santorum, Huntsman, and Gingrich are employing leftist tactics because they can't run on their questionable records and can't distinguish themselves from Romney."
Paul's strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire will be difficult to replicate in South Carolina, where an evangelical Christian base dominates the primary electorate. Yet he may be able to fare better in Florida and Nevada, and continue to pick up delegates, if his supporters keep injecting money into his campaign.
"There's no way that they're going to stop the momentum that we've started," Paul said.
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