Rep. Ron Paul said Monday he will not compete in Republican primaries in any of the states that have not yet voted — essentially ending the 2012 primary season and leaving the path open for Mitt Romney to win the GOP presidential nomination.
Mr. Paul said he will still try to win over delegates in states where the voting is done but where state conventions are still picking representatives to the Republican nominating convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. But the Texas congressman and three-time presidential hopeful said he’s done actively trying to win over voters themselves in the 11 primaries still ahead.
“Moving forward, however, we will no longer spend resources campaigning in primaries in states that have not yet voted,” Mr. Paul said in a statement from his campaign. “Doing so with any hope of success would take many tens of millions of dollars we simply do not have.”
That move leaves Mr. Romney as the only man actively seeking the Republican nomination, having outlasted a half-dozen opponents over the last four months of voting. The former Massachusetts governor is still shy of the number of delegates needed to win the nomination, but is expected to easily collect those in upcoming votes in Texas, California and nine other states still to hold primaries.
Mr. Romney’s campaign did not return a message seeking comment, but the push to win over Paul supporters is already under way in other circles. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary E. Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee, said he’ll pick up Mr. Paul’s torch heading into the election.
“You can’t suspend liberty,” said Mr. Johnson, who had initially tried to win the Republican nomination before dropping out to join the Libertarians. “The Ron Paul revolution must continue, whether he is actively campaigning or not. His message must be a part of the conversation leading to November.”
Mr. Paul is retiring at the end of this term in the House. But he has already bequeathed his political movement to his son, freshman Sen. Rand Paul, who rode voter dissatisfaction to victory in a Republican primary and then in the general election in Kentucky in 2010.
The 2012 campaign marked Mr. Paul’s third run for the White House, following a 1988 campaign as the Libertarian Party’s nominee and then his 2008 bid for the Republican nomination.
That unorthodox 2008 campaign rewrote the manual on Internet fundraising and attracted Americans who had been alienated by much of the political process but were attracted to Mr. Paul’s message of limited government bound more strictly to original constitutional intent.
His rallies attracted supporters dressed as Colonial soldiers, and “Don’t tread on me” flags became staples of his appearances, well before they would become a part of the anti-Washington tea party movement in the 2010 elections.
“Ron Paul presaged the tea party movement, and many of his supporters fueled the tea party and its 2010 victories, not least that of his own son. That is one major impact. Another is Paul’s ability to attract young people, a feat few in the GOP have been able to duplicate in recent years,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato.
Still, Mr. Sabato said, Mr. Paul’s stances on foreign policy and on drug legalization were unacceptable to too many Republican voters for him to have gone further within the party.
Mr. Paul briefly surged late last year, topping the polls in Iowa ahead of that state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. His third-place showing also seemed to leave him poised to make a run.
But that never materialized.
He ends his active campaigning without having won the popular vote in any state — though he did end up with the most bound delegates in Maine, thanks to his delegate-maximizing strategy.
According to the latest tally by the Associated Press, Mr. Romney has 966 delegates of the 1,144 needed to win the nomination. Mr. Paul has 104 delegates.
More than 700 delegates are still available across the 11 states still to hold primaries, and Mr. Romney is now virtually assured of collecting the bulk of them and clinching the nomination.
Throughout the campaign, Mr. Paul has said his lower vote totals would be countered by his supporters’ enthusiasm, particularly in states that hold caucuses.
In many of those states, the initial caucuses amounted to nonbinding straw polls, with the real delegate-selection process for the Tampa convention happening at regional and state meetings. Mr. Paul’s supporters have been more likely to show up at those meetings and win the delegate slots.
Now Mr. Paul will rely on trying to maximize delegates at the few states that have yet to choose their final delegates to the national convention, such as Washington and Missouri. He can also try to win over support of delegates who were bound to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum — two former candidates who have suspended their campaigns.
“Our campaign will continue to work in the state convention process. We will continue to take leadership positions, win delegates, and carry a strong message to the Republican National Convention that liberty is the way of the future,” Mr. Paul said.
Many of Mr. Paul’s supporters argue he can still win the nomination, pointing to his success in having his supporters elected as delegates to the convention.
But most of those delegates are actually bound by the results of the primaries and conventions to vote for another candidate in the first round of voting. Most delegates’ personal views won’t come into play unless no candidate wins on the first ballot.