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Paul portrays himself now as Romney's only challenger

From Deirdre Walsh, CNN
updated 5:30 AM EST, Wed January 11, 2012
  • Paul sees himself as the one challenger to front-runner Mitt Romney
  • Texan says strong showing will allow him to raise funds to compete in more contests
  • Paul will compete in South Carolina but isn't focusing on Florida, which follows

Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN) -- After a second-place finish to Mitt Romney in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, Texas Rep. Ron Paul portrayed himself as the one alternative to Republican front-runner Romney.

"We're next in line to him," Paul told CNN in an exclusive interview after the results came in, adding, "I would say that we're the only one really in the race with him."

Paul finished with about 23% of the vote to Romney's 39% but well ahead of Jon Huntsman, who had staked all of his resources on a strong showing in New Hampshire.

Speaking in Manchester to a group made up of mostly young supporters packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a banquet hall, Paul said he called Romney to congratulate him on his "clear-cut victory." But he quickly added to the enthusiastic crowd, "We are nibbling at his heels."

Paul told the crowd that his showing Tuesday night demonstrates that he continues to be a threat to the Republican establishment.

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"I sort of have to chuckle when they describe you and me as being dangerous! That's one thing they are telling the truth because we are dangerous to the status quo of this country."

Paul has said he believes a strong finish in New Hampshire will help him compete for the top spot in the next GOP primary, in South Carolina on January 21.

He said Tuesday night that he was headed to South Carolina on Wednesday and that his New Hampshire showing will help him raise money to compete there and in the contests to follow.

He predicted his supporters would start another "money bomb" -- a quick online fundraiser -- as they have in the past to help him with resources to continue campaigning.

When he campaigned for the Republican nomination in New Hampshire in 2008, Paul came in fifth and received about 8% of the vote. But a Paul adviser told CNN that the Texas congressman has visited the state a lot more than he did four years ago, and the adviser believes Paul's consistent message about reducing the debt is resonating more this year because of the state of the economy.

Unlike his Republican rivals, Paul isn't focusing major time or resources in Florida, a major electoral prize that will hold its primary on January 31. Because Florida Republicans moved up their primary earlier than party rules allowed, the state's GOP is being penalized and instead of getting 99 delegates to the national convention in Tampa, it will get only 50.

"We don't have a big campaign planned there, but they'll know we're there, and we have the caucus states that we'll be paying more attention to," Paul said.

He maintained that looking ahead to other states is about managing limited campaign funds and sticking to his own tenet of fiscal responsibility.

"I think it tells you that we are realistic. That's the way we approached Iowa, we did pretty well there, and right now, polls are looking pretty good up here," he said. "So I think we're being realistic. We shouldn't be acting like the government and spend money we don't have."

Paul's campaign is targeting the 98 delegates who will be awarded in the caucus states of Nevada, Louisiana, and Maine, which vote after Florida.

And Paul's campaign touts his loyal and passionate following among many, especially young voters, who are ready to fan out to these Republican contests as the campaign continues into the late winter and spring.

Tatiana Moroz is a Paul supporter who drove up from New Jersey to help rally support for Paul in New Hampshire. She pointed to the diverse crowd at an event on Sunday in Meredith, New Hampshire, as evidence that Paul can draw support from across the political spectrum.

"There's all kinds of people here today -- there's old people, young people, Republicans, Democrats, independents. He appeals to everyone and his message is universal," Moroz said.

Even without outright wins of any of these GOP contests, Paul can continue to rack up delegates to the Republican convention and potentially stay in the race for the long haul. If he accumulates a significant number of delegates, he could have some power to influence the party's platform or demand a prime time speaking slot at the convention.

Asked in an interview on CNN's "John King, USA" last week about whether he might hold onto his delegates and attempt to force the GOP to alter its platform on national security or economic policy, Paul said, "That sounds like a lot of fun." He added that scenario "might be a way for me to promote the things I believe in, and that is a political action."

CNN Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report

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