Ron Paul, the Texan Congressman and standard bearer of the Libertarian wing of the Republican party, has pulled to within one point of front-runner Newt Gingrich in the crucial early state of Iowa.

Republican presidential race jump-starts into life
Ron Paul’s disciplined supporters could stage an upset in Iowa Photo: AP

Dismissed by many as too extreme to win the nomination, Mr Paul has a fiercely loyal following that could propel him to an upset election victory in the January 3 caucus.

In the last week he has surged from 18 points to 21, leaving him only one behind Mr Gingrich and five ahead of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who was once the presumptive nominee but is now being buffeted from all sides.

Iowa has always posed a challenge for Mr Romney, who governed as moderate in Massachusetts and whose Mormon faith may hold him back in an electorate that is 60 per cent evangelical Christian.