Campaign aides tried to put on a confident public face but the Texas Congressman’s third place finish is not what they wanted or predicted in the days leading up to the first Presidential primary of 2012.
They point to John McCain‘s third place finish in Iowa in 2008 and draw comparisons to McCain’s surge to the front and the nomination.
They note that Paul — with 21 percent compared with 25 percent for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — doubled his vote and level of support from 2008.
A month ago, polls showed Paul and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich tied for first place in Iowa. Paul faded to third and Gingrich plummeted to a disappointing fourth with just 13 percent of the vote.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum‘s surge to a strong second place just eight votes behind Iowa winner Mitt Romney shifts the focus away from Paul. Iowa was his best shot at a win and a third place finish wasn’t part of the plan.
Still, Paul claims momentum from Iowa:
We have tremendous opportunity to continue this momentum, it won’t be long that there’s going to be an election up in New Hampshire, and believe me, this momentum is going to continue and this movement is going to continue and we are going to keep scoring. So tonight, we have come out of an election where there were essentially three winners, three top vote-getters and we will go on, we will raise the money, I have no doubt about the volunteers.
GOP strategist Sharon Lipes sees it differently.
“Paul has hit his ceiling of support and that ceiling is even lower when you take Democrats, liberals and others out of the picture,” Lipes told Capitol Hill Blue. “He will soldier on but he will continue to fade.”
Paul may welcome a break from the spotlight. Considered a potential winner in Iowa placed him under a public microscope as racially-tinged newsletters from the 1980s & 90s, isolationist positions on foreign policy, support of conspiracy theories and posturing that plays on public paranoia raised questions about his legitimacy as a serious candidate.
“I took a second look at Ron Paul and I didn’t like what I saw,” caucus voter Alex Jefferson said. “There are just too many questions about his past.”
Caucus voter Carol Linder said Paul’s “unwillingness to be candid or accept responsibility for his newsletters” caused her to shift her vote to Santorum.
Exit polls show most Iowa caucus goers wanted a candidate who could beat Barack Obama.
“I like a lot of what Dr. Paul has to say but he just can’t win a national election,” said caucus voter Larry Henderson. “We need to get rid of Obama. That’s why I voted for Romney.”
Still, nobody expects Paul to slow down. He hopes to do well in South Carolina, he and Mitt Romney are the only Republicans on the ballot in Virginia and he has money and a fanatical legion of followers.
“He will make noise, lots of noise, but noise is all it will be” Lipes says. “From his comments after the vote Tuesday, I’d say he’s setting the stage for his son (Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul) to take his place in 2016.”