Ron Paul managed to hold on to expectations, finishing a strong second tonight in the New Hampshire primary.
It was validation for the 76-year-old congressmen who has spent an entire political career preaching his free market ideas and non-interventionist ideology, mostly toiling in the confines of political obscurity.
Now in the spotlight, Paul admitted that he never expected the groundswell of support, adding: "I didn't know you were out there."
"It's no longer that irate, tireless minority that is stirring up the troops, now that irate majority," said Paul to cheers of "Ron Paul, President Paul."
Walking on stage to Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" - after his staff took the stage to the Darth Vader theme from "Star Wars" - Paul thanked his family, campaign staff, and the Manchester Union Leader for not endorsing him for president. The leading New Hampshire publication endorsed Newt Gingrich.
Paul's strong second place in New Hampshire was hard fought and a boost to the campaign, which managed to hold off his GOP rivals despite taking two days off in the past week and keeping a light campaign schedule.
It was in New Hampshire that Paul launched his bid for president, announcing on ABC's "Good Morning America" last May.
He subsequently made more than 50 campaign stops, augmented with a strong ground game that included a small army of volunteers from around the country and also supported by $2 million worth of television advertising.
Although the campaign had hoped to woo over undecided voters by stressing Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy, they said they knew they would be unlikely to topple Mitt Romney.
But with a strong second place showing, Paul said tonight he was "nipping at his heels."
The campaign is already looking forward to South Carolina, which votes on Jan. 21. The congressman is scheduled to hold a rally Wednesday afternoon in Columbia. Paul's foreign policy views and antiwar positions might be expected to hurt him in a state with large military institutions and a heavy defense industry, but Paul says that he receives more money from members of the military than all the other candidates combined.
After South Carolina, Paul is expected to mainly bypass Florida because of the huge cost of advertising and campaigning in the state. Paul's campaign manager reportedly said that spending $9 million for 50 delegates is not worth it.