DES MOINES, Iowa - Texas Rep. Ron Paul has a serious chance of winning a top-two spot in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, enabling him to create problems for at least one of the GOP's presumptive front-runners heading into New Hampshire, political analysts said.
As some GOP candidates have faltered, Paul has maintained a steady rise in Iowa state polls since he won second place behind Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in the state's straw poll in August.
Today, Bachmann's support has fallen to single digits. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain each enjoyed brief stints as front-runners. But Perry's support faded following a string of poor debate performances and Cain dropped out after one woman alleged a 13-year affair with him and others claimed he sexually harassed them.
Paul, meanwhile, continues to earn second or third place in Iowa state polls.
Leading the pack is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who won between 26 percent and 33 percent of support in three recent polls.
Paul and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are running neck-and-neck behind Gingrich with an average of 18 percent in support.
For Paul to win the caucuses, he would have to earn at least 30 percent of the vote on Jan. 3, according to Steve Grubbs, a longtime Iowa political consultant and state director of Cain's former campaign.
But Paul has a fervent following that could surprise on caucus day.
"The people who like Ron Paul are intensely loyal and they will turn out [on caucus day] no matter what," said Jeff Stein, a political analyst and Iowa caucus historian. "I don't think there is that kind of loyalty for any other candidate in the field."
Paul's supporters are the least likely to change their minds, according to a Des Moines Register poll.
"A Ron Paul victory in Iowa is a very, very real possiblity," said Tim Albrecht, spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
Despite his top-tier status in Iowa, Paul -- who leans libertarian and ran for president as the Libertarian Party's nominee in 1988 -- has had a hard time gaining traction nationally within the Republican establishment.
"Ron Paul is the uncle who is honest to a fault," Grubbs said. "Everybody loves him and most people agree with about 80 percent of what he says. It's the other 20 percent that's such a deal-killer."
If he won Iowa, Paul would solidify a first-tier status in the race.
If he placed second, he would drive a wedge between Gingrich and Romney, who are perceived nationally as the top two front-runners, Stein said.
Placing second behind Romney, Paul would blunt Gingrich's surge in the polls.
Coming in second behind Gingrich, Paul would deal a serious blow to Romney heading into New Hampshire, where Gingrich is catching up to Romney in the polls.