Last week, Campaign for Liberty press guy and Ron Paul grandson-in-law Jesse Benton was driving to a constituent event with his boss and the subject of 2012 came up.

"He hasn’t closed out the idea of another run," said Benton today. "We have some time to decide whether he runs again, or whether he gets behind somebody else. But we don’t have tons of time. By the middle of 2009, the decision needs to be made."

Benton isn't pushing Paul one way or the other. "I could get behind either decision, but it needs to be made in the next six months or so," he said. "One thing we learned is that those voters in New Hampshire and Iowa expect, to see their candidates early and often." Paul entered the 2008 primaries in January 2007, about 11 months and two weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

I asked about the rumor that former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson might jump into the race (unclear in which party yet). "If he were to decide that he wanted to do that, he’d be a great guy to take the reins. But I don’t think that what Dr. Paul captured was 100 percent transferable to anyone else. I think the Bob Barr campaign assumed that and it didn't pan out."

Would Paul run as a Republican again or as a Libertarian? "We try not to ever deal in absolutes in politics," Benton said carefully. "But he would be very likely to be running as a Republican again." It's not just that "working within the system" gets more exposure for a candidate. It's that several Republican primary states include the caveat that candidates cannot run in their primaries and go third party if they lose. "To be frank, I got tired of the 'third party' question getting asked time after time, and I know that Ron did too."

Paul is almost exactly a year older than John McCain, and turned 73 in August.