02/04/2012 08:16 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2012

Ron Paul Finishes Surprisingly Strong In 2012 Nevada Caucus

LAS VEGAS -- Ron Paul looked to have re-energized his presidential campaign and the movement propelling it Saturday with a solid showing in the Nevada caucuses. Early results and preliminary exit polls had Paul, a Texas House Republican with libertarian leanings, running neck-and-neck with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for second place.

Paul's campaign has focused on smaller states -- particularly those holding caucuses, rather than primaries -- where his followers' enthusiasm can be leveraged into an efficient organization. After the extremely well-funded campaign being run in Nevada by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the likely caucus winner, Paul's organization is the most robust and effective in the state, said Michael Roberson, a Republican state senator representing Clark County.

Nevada, with its large Mormon population, was long considered an easy lay-up for Romney. But that lack of suspense may have helped depress voter turnout among Romney's supporters, which had the effect of boosting Paul Saturday night.

Paul was campaigning Saturday in Minnesota, another caucus state, which votes Tuesday, the same day Colorado holds its caucus. Paul's strategy aims to rack up enough delegates so that he can head to the GOP convention as a power player, able to influence the party platform or win other concessions.

"The one thing that is on our side is the American people are waking up," Paul told a packed school auditorium in Rochester, Minn. on Saturday.

For the other three GOP candidates, blame for the state of the economy and other national ills rests squarely with President Barack Obama. Paul's campaign rejects that standard.

"Our problems are a lot longer than 3 years old. They’ve been going on for a long time," he said.

Instead, Paul presents a much broader critique, challenging America's aggressive foreign policy, abuse of civil liberties and relentless war on drugs -- issues on which he overlaps with more liberal voters. He parts ways with them, though, in his opposition to government programs such as Medicare and Social Security and his insistence on dramatically cutting federal spending on social policy.