No one fears that Paul will walk away with the Republican nomination. But with a strong core of supporters, he has the means to stay in the race nearly as long as he wants. That core support also earns him a spot in high-profile debates.
To qualify for the Fox-Washington Examiner debate, for example, candidates had to have at least 1 percent support in five national polls. Paul qualified with plenty of room to spare; in the most recent RealClearPolitics average of polls, he has 9 percent support, well ahead of fellow candidates Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum and, until his post-straw poll withdrawal from the race, Tim Pawlenty.
Paul also has enough money to do what he wants. He reported raising $4.5 million in the second quarter of this year, with about $3 million in the bank. Since he has decided to retire from the House, he can also spend unused funds raised for congressional campaigns.
Speaking of retirement -- one aspect of the Paul phenomenon that has received little attention so far is his age. Born in 1935, he will be 77 years old on Inauguration Day 2013 -- the same age Ronald Reagan was when he left the White House after serving two terms. If Paul were elected and re-elected, he'd be 85 at the end of his time in the White House. Even though Americans are living longer, most people would probably agree that's too old for a president.
But the Paul campaign isn't really about the practical possibility that he might become president. It's more about Paul's supporters forcing the larger political establishment to acknowledge that he's right.
"The day will come soon when candidate Paul will get his due," tweeted one supporter recently. "Blowback is gonna be a b---h."
Of course, most Republicans don't believe that. But Paul commands enough support to make his presence known all the way through next year.