Republican Ron Paul said Tuesday he is forming a campaign exploratory committee as he moves closer to running for president, declaring there are "literally millions more people now concerned about the very things I talked about" than ever before.
But the Texas congressman, who ran unsuccessfully in 2008, could now find himself in a more crowded field of candidates preaching a similar message of small government and limited federal spending.
Paul became the fifth candidate to take the formal step toward organizing a campaign. At least a dozen Republicans are considering the race.
An outspoken Libertarian, Paul would appear to benefit from a favorable political climate. Public surveys have shown voters are gloomy about the economy and concerned about the federal deficit. In his 2008 campaign, Paul's demands for sharply cutting back government spending helped mobilize public frustration about the nation's fiscal condition.
Since then, he has also drawn some support from the tea party movement. But Paul's advisers acknowledge that he'll have to run a better-funded, better organized campaign to stand out now in a field of more traditional Republicans who will also be emphasizing fiscal austerity.
"I do see a lot of support" now for making government much smaller, Paul said. "I believe there are literally millions more people now concerned about the very things I talked four years ago. The anticipation of course is that it will be a much, much more significant campaign if it comes to a campaign announcement."
Paul made his announcement at an airport hotel in Iowa, where the first contest in the presidential nomination process will be held Feb. 6. He finished fifth in Iowa in 2008 and did not get more than 10 percent of the vote in any state, losing the nomination to the more moderate Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
He has had a loyal but limited following for his proposals for dramatically reducing government spending and scaling back management of the economy. He supports withdrawing the United States from its overseas commitments and has opposed U.S. involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the 2012 race, Paul could find himself competing against a host of fiscal conservatives. They could include Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, founder the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House last year. She has made several trips to Iowa and laid the groundwork for a campaign. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who rose through the party establishment, has also courted small-government conservatives and emphasized his budget battles with Democrats in the Minnesota Legislature. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have also finished high in early voter surveys.
"There are others who also have credibility now and could get a share of the tea party support Congressman Paul could have counted on more exclusively," said Brendan Steinhauser, federal and state political director for FreedomWorks, a national group allied with the tea party.
Greg Mueller, a former top aide to presidential campaigns of Republicans Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes, said Paul would have to reach new voters as well as hold the support of his earlier loyalists.
"A lot of candidates are rightfully cozying up to the tea party and that message," Mueller said. "He was on to something, but now he's going to have to jockey with the others."
In February, Paul won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., where Bachmann, Pawlenty and most other GOP presidential prospects spoke. But in larger polls of Republican voters, he has been in single digits.