Rand Paul Endorses Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul May Be Next

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney received the endorsement of Kentucky junior Senator Rand Paul on Thursday, one of his biggest endorsements from the Tea Party/ libertarian far-right.

Rand Paul, the son of Republican presidential nominee and libertarian darling Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), said late Thursday that he would pick Romney, but that his father would remain his "first pick."

"My first choice had always been my father. I campaigned for him when I was 11-years-old. He's still my first pick," Rand Paul told Fox News' Sean Hannity. "But now that the nominating process is over, tonight I'm happy to announce that I'm going to be supporting Gov. Mitt Romney."

The endorsement shows that Romney will be able to marshal far-right voters under his banner. Throughout the 2012 GOP primaries, Romney was repeatedly criticized for not being “conservative enough,” and many libertarian and Tea Party voters have criticized Romney for a hawkish foreign policy and moderate fiscal policy.  

(As a side note, Ron Paul supporters are now ripping Rand for making the announcement.)

The Rand Paul endorsement also gives Romney a boost in the conservative South, where the former Massachusetts governor struggled to gain support during the primaries.

Analysts have already speculated that Rand Paul could be a possible vice presidential pick for Romney, outlining his ability to garner Tea Party, libertarian, and far-right support. Still, the drawbacks of a Rand Paul VP pick outweigh any strengths.

Others consider Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) a better VP pick, especially in bringing in Tea Party voters.

Rand Paul is also seen as the heir to his father’s libertarian legacy. Ron Paul will retire from Congress in November, but has amassed a huge, fervent following throughout the country. Millennials in particular have been attracted to Ron Paul’s views on global military draw-backs, financial reform, and small government.

Ron Paul is officially still in the presidential race, although he has "suspended spending" in his campaign and admitted Wednesday he lacked the delegates to win the nomination. Ron Paul has used a unique “It’s the Delegates, Dummy” campaign strategy to mobilize grassroots support to influence the ultimate delegate decisions in states. As a result Ron Paul has been able to win a number of Republican National Convention delegates, despite having failed to win the popular vote in these states.

Romney has clinched the 1,144 delegates necessary for the nod.

Ron Paul has said he won’t run as a third party candidate in the 2012 elections. He is attending this weekend’s Texas Republican Convention, where he is a speaker.

Will Ron Paul be the next big name endorsement for Romney?