Ron Paul is exiting the political stage, but his legions of followers insist they are only getting started.

Libertarian-leaning loyalists of the two-time Republican presidential candidate have quietly taken over key-state GOP organizations, ensuring future fights with the GOP’s establishment and laying the groundwork for a future presidential candidate.

Their new relevance, especially in early caucus states Iowa and Nevada, could clear the way for such a candidate, perhaps Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. It’s the next step in the group’s ongoing development, from rambunctious malcontents of just a few years ago into more serious party activists bent on reshaping a party they say has drifted from its conservative roots.

“It’s the maturation of the movement,” said Matt Strawn, a former Iowa Republican Party chairman not affiliated with Paul. “If you’re going to keep the franchise going, you need a candidate.”

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