Will 2012's Ron Paul be...Ron Paul?

Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas is interviewed on the porch of The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich., Friday, Sept. 21, 2007 before the start of the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. The biennial conference will give the presidential candidates a chance to increase their support in a state that will be one of the earliest to weight in with a Jan. 15 primary. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas
Carlos Osorio

Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool: The longtime proponent of limited government was out of step with the mainstream GOP as late as 2008, when he held a counter-convention to the Republican National Convention after being offered what he called a "second class" pass to the big event. The slight came despite the fact that Paul's libertarian-infused brand of conservatism had galvanized a passionate (if small) fanbase that rallied around his 2008 presidential bid - and served as a precursor to the Tea Party movement.

So now that the GOP has come around - so much so that Paul's son (an ideological equal) Rand Paul has been elected senator - will the 75-year-old run again?

It looks like he might. In a sign that he is serious about another run, Paul will be speaking to a social conservative group in the crucial early nominating state of Iowa next month; he put the odds of a 2012 run at 50-50 in December. Even though Paul would not enter the race as a top-tier candidate - he won just two percent of the vote last time around - he would seem to have little to lose from entering the race. And even if doesn't win the nomination, he could shift the debate more toward what he considers key issues, including the (in Paul's conception, largely nefarious) role of the Fed.

If Paul does run, it will be bad news for the man who many expected to potentially full Paul's slot in 2012 - former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. Like Paul, Johnson is popular with libertarians, though instead of fiscal policy his focus has been on individual freedom -- specifically, drug decriminalization. Johnson has been making all the right moves to fill the Paul slot in 2012, hiring former Paul staffers and raising his profile through media appearances (expect to see him on CBSNews.com this week). But another Paul campaign could make it tough for him to break through into the public consciousness.