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Why is Ron Paul still in the GOP race - and what does he want?

He hasn't won a single state primary or caucus, yet Ron Paul soldiers on in the GOP presidential race. He is quietly amassing delegates to the GOP national convention, but his real aim is to infuse the party with his brand of Republicanism.

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"He is unlike any of the other candidates," conservative columnist Charles Kraut­hammer wrote in a Washington Post column in January. "They're one-time self-contained enterprises aiming for the White House. Paul is out there to build a movement that will long outlive this campaign."

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What then becomes of that movement – the groundswell of support Paul has cultivated and his legions of loyal supporters – after the campaign?

For starters, his supporters won't shift allegiance easily in November.

"Some will vote for Romney, some for the Libertarian Party candidate, but the great mass of Ron voters love Ron Paul so much they just won't vote," says Mr. Doherty. "The others won't satisfy them." A Feb. 28 exit poll of voters in Michigan's GOP primary found about 35 percent of Paul voters said they won't vote for any other GOP candidate for president.

From Paul delegates to party influencers

Paul's effort to rack up delegates may pay off well after the 2012 convention. Delegates who opt to stay in their posts after Paul exits can gradually sway the party at a grass-roots level, says Doherty.

"A certain percentage will continue to sit with the party, get officer positions, and change the feel of the party and what it is willing to accept," he says, citing candidate recruitment and funneling party money as two concrete ways delegates can "make the party more of a Ron Paul party."

It wouldn't be the first time an upstart candidate has helped rechart the direction of the GOP. Until the 1960s, the Republican Party was largely an Eastern elitist organization. Though Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater lost badly to incumbent Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election, he used his campaign to strengthen the resurgence of the conservative political movement throughout the 1960s.

Similarly, in 1988, GOP presidential candidate Pat Robertson lost the nomination battle to George H.W. Bush only to win the war: bolstering the Christian right and transforming the GOP into a more evangelical, conservative Christian party.

"Just as Goldwater in 1960 and Pat Robertson in 1988 managed to turn their insurgent campaigns into ... movements that influenced the party's attitudes and candidates beyond their numbers," says Doherty, "so is Paul's strategy of encouraging his people to become delegates, take positions of power in local parties, and run for office themselves the best way to ensure that his libertarian beliefs steer the Republican Party down the line."

Mr. Hanson isn't so sure. "Religious voters make up too important a piece of the Republican coalition for Paul's libertarian views on issues like same-sex relationships to be fully accepted," he says. "Is Paul's philosophy likely to go mainstream within the GOP? I think the answer is no."

It may be a long shot, but Paul backers hope that as acceptance grows for Paul's "revolution," so does the chance that a similar candidate – perhaps Rand Paul – might one day win the White House.

RECOMMENDED: Are you a true Ron Paul supporter? Take our quiz! 

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