Rand Paul drops out of the 2016 presidential race. Now what?

Rand Paul, freshman Kentucky senator and son of libertarian icon Ron Paul, announced that he is suspending his 2016 presidential campaign. He finished fifth in the Iowa primary Monday. 

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky listens to his introduction at a rally in the Mid-America Center on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Rand Paul, the Libertarian senator from Kentucky, announced Wednesday that he’s suspending his presidential campaign in order to focus on his 2016 Senate reelection.

"It's been an incredible honor to run a principled campaign for the White House. Today, I will end where I began, ready and willing to fight for the cause of Liberty," he wrote in a statement.

Senator Paul joins Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Martin O'Malley as casualties of the Iowa caucuses. The Iowa vote often winnows the field, reports The Christian Science Monitor's Story Hinckley

Since 1972, no Democratic or Republican candidate who finished worse than fourth place in Iowa has gone on to win their party’s nomination. And both parties have only had one case of fourth-place survival: Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 and Republican John McCain in 2008. For the other ten caucuses during this time, the eventual party nomination was always awarded to a top-three candidate in the Iowa caucus.

“In the 1980 Republican presidential caucus campaign, Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker said one function of the Iowa caucuses was to ‘winnow the field’ of candidates,” Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen wrote in 2007. “By that he meant Iowa caucus-goers in both parties take presidential campaigns with large numbers of candidates and cut the field to a more manageable size for voters in other states to consider." 

Rand Paul, the son of libertarian icon and former Texas representative Ron Paul, began his presidential bid on April 7, 2015, in Louisville, Ky. The socially conservative senator has served in Congress since 2011, and in his campaign narrative, he emphasized a smaller federal government and greater personal liberties.

"Across the country thousands upon thousands of young people flocked to our message of limited government, privacy, criminal justice reform, and a reasonable foreign policy,” he wrote in his campaign-ending statement. “Brushfires of Liberty were ignited, and those will carry on, as will I."

Despite early promise, Paul was soon eclipsed by his Republican opponents. His base of anti-establishment, libertarian-leaning Republicans gravitated towards candidates like real estate mogul Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. In the Iowa caucuses, Paul finished in fifth place with about 4.5 percent of the vote, and recent polls show that in New Hampshire he’s in ninth place.

In 2014, Time magazine called him “the most interesting man in politics.” Upon entering the race, he was quick to vocalize dissent against Donald Trump, calling the New York businessman a “delusional narcissist,” a “fake conservative,” and even “Gollum” – a grotesque creature from the "Lord of the Rings" series.

Paul's departure from the race came as a surprise to some supporters. "Some of the staff found out yesterday, the rest found out this morning," a source close to Paul’s campaign in New Hampshire told ABC News. "Obviously people here at the office are disappointed, but we think his message will continue to resonate with the freedom movement in the Republican Party."

Notable campaign moments include a begrudging October livestream of a day on the trail with him, and a viral video, uploaded July, in which he defiled the tax code with a chainsaw, a woodchipper, and fire as a rock-and-roll rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” played in the background.

But Paul was never able to break out of the single digits in national polls. He also encountered money troubles: By the last quarter of 2015, he only had $1.3 million in the bank for his campaign, compared to Ted Cruz’ $18.7 million. In the same period of time, he was only able to raise $2.1 million, while spending nearly $3 million. Compared to rivals like Ben Carson, who raised $22.6 million, Paul wasn’t exactly in a comfortable financial situation.

And for the last debate in January, Paul fell short of making it to the main stage with the top GOP contenders because his poll numbers remained below the threshold. Boycotting the undercard event, he said he was running a “first-tier” campaign.

"Although, today I will suspend my campaign for president, the fight is far from over,” Paul concluded in his exit statement. “I will continue to carry the torch for Liberty in the United States Senate and I look forward to earning the privilege to represent the people of Kentucky for another term."

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