What's Next for Ron Paul?

It is now next to impossible for the Texas congressman to capture the Republican nomination.

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Ron Paul and his supporters could still play a pivotal role in the 2012 presidential race, but not in the way Paul's die-hards would prefer.

It is now next to impossible for the Texas congressman to capture the Republican nomination. Paul has yet to win a single state in the nominating primaries or caucuses. Although his backers point out that he has done well in a number of places, including Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, and Maine, he has only 51 delegates compared to front-runner Mitt Romney's 660, according to the Associated Press. But what Paul does next could have a strong impact on the general election's outcome because an endorsement, or lack of it, could make a difference. Even more significant would be if Paul decided to run for president this fall as a third-party or independent candidate.

Paul has run as a libertarian before, and had negligible impact, but this time he has demonstrated more voter appeal. In fact, Paul has inspired passionate support among libertarian and libertarian-leaning voters. Holding onto that support or expanding it as an independent or third-party candidate could shift votes from GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and throw some battleground states such as Iowa and Wisconsin to President Obama if the competition is close.

Republican strategists say Paul could be influential in the choice of a vice presidential running mate, and could conceivably seek to have his son Rand, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, in the mix. He also is expected to win a prominent role as a speaker at the Republican National Convention this summer.

Paul has generated opposing reactions in the general electorate so far. Forty-five percent of registered voters have an unfavorable view of him, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, and 33 percent have a favorable view of him.

Paul is now making a big push in Texas, his home state, which holds a Republican presidential primary on May 29.

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