Rep. Ron Paul will be the only candidate on stage in Iowa on Thursday night who can claim to be the leader of his very own revolution.

His performance will be the first step in an effort to make that revolution complete and to claim his mantle as the godfather of the tea party movement.

Like Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty, Paul (R-Tex.) will look to use his appearance to provide a lift in the Ames straw poll — he placed fifth in 2007, and a finish above that would count as a success, his supporters said.

On Thursday night, as in most debates, success will be measured in sound bites.

In debates, Paul can sometimes be steered in directions that aren’t very helpful to his candidacy — in the first debate in South Carolina, moderator Chris Wallace asked him a question about the legalization of heroin, and Paul, 75, mounted a somewhat muddled defense.

If he can stick to the bread-and-butter issues that are now at the foundation of the GOP philosophy (“Cut spending, balance the budget, no deals,” as his campaign ad states), rather than veer off topic, he can probably remind Iowa voters that he started the movement, and that the rest of the field is late to the party.