Is Ron Paul satisfied to be a thorn in Rick Perry's side?

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) arrives at the California Republican Party Convention on September 17, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, during a Republican Presidential debate Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa, Fla.
Mike Carlson

Ron Paul may be running a distant third in the race for the Republican nomination, but he seems satisfied with his role as thorn in the side of front-runner Rick Perry. Stepping off the campaign trail in Iowa to meet with reporters in Washington on Wednesday morning, Paul took credit for getting Perry to pay attention to his objections to the Federal Reserve and other issues.

The Republican House member from Texas has made criticism of the Fed the centerpiece of his campaign. Perry, the Texas governor who leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the polls, "knows that the Federal Reserve is a significant issue," Paul said. "So I'm pleased with that."

Paul has consistently argued that government intrusion into the economy by the Fed causes more harm than good. Although a fringe belief when he ran in 2008, the criticism has become mainstream in the Republican Party in the 2012 election cycle. Perry went so far to suggest that the actions of the institution's chairman, Ben Bernanke, were nearly "treasonous," a criticism that brought blowback from even prominent Republican figures like strategist and television commentator Karl Rove.

Paul said he was pleased the party's politics had shifted in his direction, not only on economic but foreign policy issues. But he made a clear contrast between himself and his opponents: While his positions are based on core convictions about the best course for the country, his rivals are just playing politics.

"[Perry] knows what people are thinking about, that's how politicians operate," he said.

Perry and Paul have each taken sharp shots at each other during the campaign. The congressman has called Perry's record as governor of Texas anything but fiscally conservative, while Perry has chastised Paul for quitting the party in 1987 because of his disappointment with Ronald Reagan, the former president who has become a conservative icon. The two even had what appeared to be an off-camera confrontation at last week's GOP candidate debate in Tampa, Fla., with Perry pointing his finger in Paul's face.

Paul has been campaigning hard in Iowa, and has continued to attract a small but hardcore following of conservatives who share his libertarian views, packing small venues with 100 or more supporters. He placed third in a USA Today/Gallup poll of Republican presidential nomination preferences published on Tuesday, behind Perry, who led with 31 percent and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who got 24 percent. Paul had 13 percent, the only other presidential candidate to score in the double-digits in the poll.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., winner of the Iowa straw poll in August, joined businessman Herman Cain and former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich in the single-digits at five percent.

Paul has also been adept at raising money over the Internet with his so-called "money bombs," so much so that he's hop-scotching Iowa now in a private jet. He is the the third-most successful fundraiser in the presidential field, behind President Obama and Romney.

The Texas congressman said he would not run as a third-party candidate, arguing it would marginalize him as a political force. But, he said, he could envision a billionaire, someone with resources at his disposal, entering the presidential campaign.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it happened this time around," he said, although he did not name anyone in particular.

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    Rodney Hawkins covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.