In spite of Democratic attacks on his exchange last debate with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer over whether an uninsured man should be left to die, Paul continues to show his appeal to the tea party base.

No longer is Paul the outsider that everyone else simply ignores, both on the campaign trail and in face-offs like Thursday’s Fox News GOP debate (he’s mixed it up with Rick Perry more than once). Paul is polling a clear third in most recent surveys– ahead of Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and her fellow second-tier candidates – and while many still doubt he can win, there is something to be gained from knocking him down a peg or two, because his supporters have to migrate somewhere.

Paul did something smart before the last couple debates, positioning himself as the first big critic of Rick Perry. He drew plenty of coverage for suggesting Perry might “raise my taxes” if he speaks ill of the Texas governor, Paul’s home state.

Paul needs more of these moments. The more he is engaged with a first-tier candidate like Perry, the more he looks like a top-tier candidate himself.

We’re not sure that Paul has hit his ceiling in this race, as some might suspect. If Perry finds himself in more trouble and Bachmann continues to sink, tea party voters could very well look to a guy like Paul – especially if they see him as a legitimate candidate, which isn’t as far-fetched as it once was.