Pundits and the news media (including U.S. News) have paid little attention to Paul's performance, and comedian Jon Stewart took cable news reporters to task for blatantly skipping over Paul or even joking about how they weren't interested in footage of him.
Paul fans are notoriously intense in their support for the Texas congressman and his libertarian ideals. Read any online article that references Paul—or fails to reference Paul—and you'll see a string of comments defending him against what they see as a media bias or attempt to sideline their candidate. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP candidates.]
Political strategists and journalists do appear to be treating Paul as an unelectable fringe candidate. But is he? Or will some of his ideas prevail in the 2012 campaign?
In terms of raising cash, he is not fringe. The 12-term congressman and two-time unsuccessful candidate for president is a proven fundraiser. So far his war chest comes in distant second to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He also has staying power, supporters say. "He's got an intensely loyal base, people who are willing to organize to do whatever it takes for him to win," says Paul supporter John Dennis, a member of San Francisco's GOP Central Committee who ran against Rep. Nancy Pelosi in 2010. "And he's also shown that he's got the kind of money that can sustain a long campaign."
And Paul did have a huge accomplishment in Iowa, proving his campaign had the organizational chops to get supporters to the straw-poll ballot box. Many more people, in fact, than he did at the last Ames Straw Poll in 2007, when he came in fifth place with 1,305 votes. This time, he came in just behind Rep. Michele Bachmann with 4,671 votes, tripling his share of the votes to 27.65 percent from the 9.1 percent he garnered last time. And Paul's campaign spokesman Gary Howard says that for them, the poll was a benchmark. "It means we must be doing something right—we'll do everything possible to redouble our efforts, keep that momentum going," he says. The media's lack of interest isn't surprising, he says, and it isn't getting them down. "We don't really let that bother us too much. We will speak up about it," he says. "But we're going to keep plugging away, and eventually people will have to pay attention."
Paul has also stuck to his guns. He rightly predicted the housing bubble and the economic catastrophe the nation is still recovering from and he supported pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan before it became popular. It's clear Paul's long-held economic views—he wants a balanced budget, no increase in the debt ceiling, and no tax hikes—have found increased resonance among many in America over the last few years, particularly among Republicans and the Tea Party. "He's been proven right on some big issues," says the libertarian Cato Institute's David Boaz, who points out that some of Paul's ideas that were considered outlandish in 2007 are widely discussed now. "It's fair to say not that he's moved to the center, but that the center has moved toward him."
GOP strategists and political observers see little chance of him actually coming out on top, partly because some of his foreign policy ideas, particularly on Iran, are still outside of the Republican mainstream. "He's got a very dedicated cadre of people," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "And they're very intense, but they're relatively few in number … It's ridiculous talking about him getting the nomination."