When Ron Paul came in second place in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary on Jan. 10, he was the talk of the punditry class and the nation.

Was Paul, the most unorthodox of the GOP candidates and one of the most beloved, rising to prominence in the race for the Republican nomination? By coming in second in the Granite State, the Texas Congressman was following in big footsteps, as Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both secured the #2 spot in their respective party's New Hampshire primary while running for their first terms in office.

Ron Paul's supporters started feeling the energy of a surging campaign, and their celebrations that evening were filled with the hopeful optimism of his true believers, who hoped that the win signified the beginning of a Cinderella story where the candidate who is always counted out ends up beating President Barack Obama in November.

Mitt Romney may have gotten the most votes in that New Hampshire primary yesterday. But the award for best party of the night went to the second place finisher, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, NPR radio hosts opined on Jan. 11. His fervent supporters chanted and sang into the early hours of the morning, showing the kind of passion that propelled Ron Paul to the best night in his career to date.

And Jan. 10 really was the best night of his career as a repeated presidential candidate. No other candidate looked poised to come from behind and overtake Paul as the Mitt Romney alternative: Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum had such weak showings--each got 9.4 percent of the vote--that they looked ill-positioned to steal his thunder, and the only other person with enough votes to matter was the lowly Jon Hunstman.

By winning 22.9 percent of the vote to Romney's 39.3 percent, Paul (who was coming off a respectable 21 percent finish in Iowa's GOP caucus) had announced that he was a viable contender that could not be counted out of future primary calculations. But that was two weeks ago.

In the time since, Gingrich has become the new insurgent, jumping from the 9.4 percent tie for fourth he got in New Hampshire to a dominant first-place finish on Jan. 21 in South Carolina with 40.4 percent of voters choosing the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Second place went to Romney--27.8 percent--and bronze went to Rick Santorum--17.0 percent. Paul could only scrounge up a measly 13.0 percent fourth-place slot.

And almost immediately the inside-the-Beltway chatter about his rising star has since dropped off, turning instead to the ringing of death knells for the man who has earned a fiercely loyal following by being the most consistently independent thinker of the GOP candidates.

The Christian Science Monitor ran a provocative piece on Monday examining Paul's strategy of skipping Florida and other large states in favor of collecting delegates to promote his views to a larger audience. In the piece, they dissect Paul's plans, but they write his candidacy off as dead in an aside so casual it comes off as statement of a given fact, not an opinion with a viable counterargument:

And while no one expects Paul to surge past Romney or Gingrich for the nomination, it's certainly possible that he could win enough delegates to have more of a voice at the Republican convention, the paper wrote.

And even Paul seemed to endorse that idea in a speech he gave the night of the South Carolina primary after the results had been announced, according to the Monitor. He did not speak of capturing the White House with a 50-state strategy, or even of winning the presidency at all. Instead he focused on the piecemeal approach that may best allow him to disseminate his ideas:

In the beginning, I thought it would just be promotion of a cause. Then it dawned on me, when you win elections and you win delegates, that's the way you promote a cause, he said, according to the Monitor.

Paul was building on comments he made Sunday on CNN: It's the momentum that we want. ... And our goal is to get delegates. And we're going to be doing the states were they allocate by percentages as well as caucus states. So that's been our plan all along.

On Monday, the Associated Press published a story discussing whether or not Paul is opten to a run as a third-party candidate in the general election, seemingly writing off the concept that he could secure the GOP nod.

Ron Paul says he has no intention of running for president as a third-party candidate, though he's continuing to keep the door open a crack, the AP wrote, adding the following: But Paul says he doesn't have any plans to run outside the GOP and that he might even be able to endorse rival Newt Gingrich if he's the nominee.

But Ron Paul's 2012 campaign is not over yet, and the candidate has certainly not thrown the towel in yet, as he stated at Monday's Republican primary debate in Florida:

To say that there has only been three races and talk about not being electable, I think is a bit of a stretch, Paul told debate moderator Brian Williams.

And as recently as a Jan. 16 CNN/ORC poll, Paul was identified as a strong contender to beat Obama in a national election, if the two were to face off in November:

The CNN poll asked voters to vote in hypothetical match ups between all of the remaining Republican presidential candidates, including the Texas congressman, The State Column reported. In the head to head vote, Mr. Paul garners 46 percent compared to Mr. Obama's 48 percent. The difference of of two percentage points though is below the poll's three percentage point margin of error.

In other words, though Ron Paul's 2012 campaign has been ruled dead by many armchair pundits, he may have one of the strongest chances of beating Obama of any of the primary candidates. And that's far from irrelevant.