Suddenly Ron Paul does not look like an outlier anymore.
With an elbows-out cowboy frontrunner and a bombastic anti-government congresswoman who tends to muddle history trailed mainly by boilerplate pro-life hyper-conservatives at the rear, Paul finds himself sharing a stage with opponents who, on many issues, sound a lot him.
The ob/gyn physician from Texas is poised to make mischief in the Republican race. And the mainstream media is finally catching on.
Paul has a low-budget, campaign dependent on volunteer loyalty and well-timed "money-bombs" that net him more than a $1 million-a-pop. Odds are his strategy will see him last through every single Republican caucus and primary.
This week's Gallup poll left little doubt that Gov. Rick Perry is out front with a low double-digit lead over the previously presumed leader in the GOP field, Mitt Romney, the ex-governor of his adopted Massachusetts.
Gallop confirms what a Rasmussen poll taken days after the Iowa Straw Poll and Perry's entry into the race at a conservative bloggers summit in South Carolina: The Texan is the leader going into the traditional Labor Day start for the caucus and primary season.
But survey after survey also consistently indicate Paul has an established base of support that is at least as loyal as the best candidates in the field.
Among the evidence, Paul is the only announced candidate for the GOP nomination whose favorable rating tops his unfavorable rating, according to an AP/IPSOS poll out today.
Paul also polled solidly with Romney and Bachmann in the second tier of candidates who draw support from Republicans who identify closely with the Tea Party, More eye-catching, the same Gallup survey numbers released today have him at a strong third-place ceding among mainstream Republican voters.
All eyes are on Romney, the languishing would-be establishment candidate, and Bachmann, the previous flavor-of-the-month who is wonderinging when her support will bottom out. Bachmann was at 13% in the Rasmussen poll before dropping to 10% in the Gallup survey.
If the Minnesota congresswoman fades, people will likely discover many Bachmann voters are turned off by Perry and may find a candidate like Paul more appealing. Romney probably can best help Paul by going on the attack against Perry and expose weaknesses and maybe provoke some gaffs.
There are also the backers of the bottom-dwellers to consider. If they cannot hang with the pack, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Gingrich all have supporters who will be looking for a new home.
Paul, for now a sort of protest candidate in a field of protest candidates, has to hold his grown and not lose any of his backers to Perry. If he holds, the feisty lawmaker could find his unwavering libertarian camp a home for the forthcoming pool of available Republican primary and caucus voters.