When I began to contribute to PD many months ago, it seemed to be that both the GOP and the Democrats had three tiers of candidates. The top dogs, the second string and the circus candidates. On the Democratic side, I considered Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich as part of the circus. On the Republican side, I counted Alan Keyes, Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul and to lesser extent the Toms (Tancredo and Thompson) to be a part of that silly, no-shot-in-hell at making any noise in the process group of candidates.

Months later I still feel all but one of these candidates remain a part of the freak show under the big top, fighting for time in the spotlight with the bearded lady.

Mike Gravel is still playing a Howard Beale-esque angry old man.

Dennis Kucinich is still a uber-liberal dwarf with a hot British wife.

Tommy Thompson dropped out, but my dream of a Thompson Twins ticket for the GOP remains alive (barely), if somehow Fred Thompson can stop sleepwalking and actually try to campaign for the nomination.

Tom Tancredo still wants to seal the borders. I can see it now, years from now Vladimir Putin speaking in Mexico City saying, “Mr. Tancredo, tear down that fence!”

Alan Keyes is running. Again. He’s becoming a Republican Lyndon LaRouche.

Duncan Hunter. ‘Nuff said.

That brings me to the one candidate who I feel has left the circus and actually has joined the second tier. Months ago I thought Ron Paul was a loony libertarian with a gaggle of internet goofballs that pumped web-based polls up with inflated numbers.

I still think he has a gaggle of internet goofballs, is definitely still libertarian (though not quite as loony as I first thought) and I’m still not sold on all of these internet and straw poll victories he is getting. But he is not a circus act any more.

He’s on verge of raising more money than any other GOP candidate in the fourth quarter and, even more importantly, he’s starting to get some attention from the press. An example can be seen in the Washington Post today, which published a story on how Paul could very well become a major player in the New Hampshire primary.

Don’t get me wrong, I still feel he has virtually no shot at winning the nomination. But I also will not consider Ron Paul a circus candidate anymore.