Paul moved more quickly this year to put organizers and experienced workers in important states. He was the first candidate to run television ads in New Hampshire. At the straw poll in Ames, Iowa, a test of campaign organization, Paul finished second to Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann by only 152 votes.
"The fact that we have so many county chairmen and precinct chairmen and all this all through Iowa, we never had that before," Paul said recently from his office in Washington.
There are signs that Paul is adopting more traditional, and possibly successful, campaign strategies, according to Eric Woolson, who managed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. The strong straw poll finish was "maybe a little more of an acknowledgement that this is the way the game is played," he said.
In New Hampshire, the difference goes beyond organization.
Paul still talks freely about some subjects that place him on the fringe, such as ending the fight against drugs. But his early ads in the state seemed to "recast" his image, said Richard Killion, an unaffiliated Republican strategist who had advised former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a 2012 race dropout, in New Hampshire.
The ads give the impression that Paul is the most electable and best positioned to beat President Barack Obama, going against the conventional wisdom that Paul "speaks out well on big problems in Washington, but may not be the best messenger to tackle them," Killion said.
Paul is working to remedy that perception.
"I keep thinking maybe how I can improve on saying things so the people can understand what I'm talking about and make sure that they don't misinterpret me," he said.
All this suggests Paul is poised to improve upon his 2008 performance, when he grabbed more than 7 percent in the New Hampshire Republican primary and reached as high as 14 percent in Nevada.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Ron Paul will get somewhere north of 10 percent, possibly even in the high teens, which will have a major effect and impact on the race and who wins — whether its Perry or Romney — in New Hampshire," said Michael Dennehy, a New Hampshire-based operative who led Sen. John McCain's campaign four years ago.
"I would go so far as to say he will play spoiler," Dennehy said. "I do not see his support waning below 10 percent."
Paul also seems more willing to mix it up with the other candidates that he was in 2008.
He acknowledges trying to score political points that raise his profile in addition to his standard no-frills discussion of the issues.
A Paul television ad calling Perry "Al Gore's Texas cheerleader" garnered loads of attention and drew attacks from Perry. That was an unusual reaction from a front-runner who would typically ignore attacks from lesser candidates.
Paul said he wrestles with how to apply the new style.
But as much as other candidates pull Paul's ideas into the conservative mainstream, it's easy to forget he was the Libertarian Party's candidate for president in 1988.
Paul calls for immediate withdrawal of troops around the world, brushes aside concerns about Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb and has suggested Israel be left to defend itself. He would return to the days when the currency was backed by gold. He would eliminate a host of federal agencies and says, "There is no greater threat to the security and prosperity of the United States today than the out-of-control, secretive Federal Reserve."
Mostly, Paul is pleased that some ideas he's hammered for years are echoing all around him.
"Nobody ever did this and now it's not just me doing this," he said. "I think that's all good."
Peoples reported from Manchester, N.H.
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