DES MOINES (Reuters) - Representative Ron Paul took the first step toward a longshot campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, hoping to expand his support beyond a fervent group of loyalists.
Paul, a Texas Republican and anti-war libertarian, announced in the early voting state of Iowa that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee, the first formal move toward establishing a campaign.
Forming an exploratory committee allows Paul to raise campaign cash while he tests the political waters.
“I do intend to make a firm decision (about a race) in the not-too-distant future,” he said.
Paul had run in 2008 when John McCain got the Republican presidential nomination.
Although he trailed in that race, Paul has retained a small percentage of energetic supporters and said increasing numbers of voters were interested in his economic message.
“The country is already quite different -- millions of more people are concerned about the things I talked about four years ago. Conditions are deteriorating,” Paul said at the event. “It will be a much, much more significant campaign.”
Underscoring the challenge ahead for him this year, he polled only 6 percent among potential Republican voters in a Gallup poll last week.
Getting into the race would allow him to appear at Republican presidential debates.
The Republican 2012 field is slowing taking shape, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty among the prominent Republicans who are planning campaigns. Several more are expected to jump in over the coming weeks.
‘TOO MUCH POWER’
Paul would like to cut defense spending and feels the Federal Reserve has too much power. He is the father of Tea Party Republican Rand Paul, elected last year as a U.S. senator from Kentucky.
At the event in Des Moines, he took a jab at the Fed for its loose monetary policy.
“The inflationary problems, the creation of new money is historic,” Paul said.
“World history has never seen the monetary inflation that we have seen in the past couple of years. Higher prices will be the key issue in next year’s election. When it’s the American consumer who suffers -- and then they see interest rates cropping up, this is a big deal and it is related to the Federal Reserve system.”
Political experts doubt Paul has a chance at winning the nomination for the right to face Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012.
Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said Paul would probably receive about the same amount of support he achieved in 2008.
“Most people who got as few delegates and ran as poorly as he did last time would take that as a sign not to run again,” Black said.
Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Laura MacInnis